Uncovering the yield opportunity in ultrashorts Uncovering the yield opportunity in ultrashorts http://www.federatedinvestors.com/static/images/fhi/fed-hermes-logo-amp.png http://www.federatedinvestors.com/daf\images\insights\article\golf-ball-tee-small.jpg January 21 2020 December 4 2019

Uncovering the yield opportunity in ultrashorts

Shorter-duration bonds can still be an attractive option in a low-rate environment.
Published December 4 2019
My Content

Portfolio manager Randall Bauer offers insight on how and why ultrashort bond funds can support income-seeking investors in a low-rate world—or any time.

Q: Could you explain the Federated Ultrashort Bond Fund strategy?

The fund offers investors access to a strategy with a multipronged approach, focusing on credit risk, interest-rate risk and liquidity. It is built for income-oriented investors who want to limit their interest-rate exposure—the fund maintains an effective duration of a year or less—while seeking better yields than similar maturity government securities, i.e., they are willing to take some credit risk, but not much. The fund is invested predominantly in investment-grade securities. It can provide an attractive complement to cash and money market investments by offering a potential yield advantage in exchange for limited share price fluctuations.

Q: What is the appeal of ultrashort bonds in a declining or overall low-rate environment?

As interest rates fall, a bond fund will tend to hold a higher income stream longer than a money market fund. This is because the higher coupon securities held in a bond fund purchased prior to any decline in rates will take longer to mature than money market securities, so the higher yield will tend to be maintained for a longer period of time. When securities mature in any mutual fund portfolio, the proceeds need to be redeployed in new securities, which will have lower yields in the event interest rates are falling (or higher yields in the event interest rates are rising). 

While money market funds are able to purchase higher-yielding securities sooner when interest rates are rising, there generally is a yield advantage to an ultrashort fund relative to a money fund in any rate environment given the ultrashort fund’s broader opportunity set: it can include short-duration, primarily investment-grade, corporate, mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities. Since the majority of an ultrashort’s total return is generated by the yield on the securities in the portfolio, this generally means that an ultrashort fund may generate a higher total return as well. Unlike a money market fund, the principal value of an ultrashort fund will fluctuate. This can contribute to total return but also result in principal loss when rates are rising, although this risk is less than with longer-term, higher-yielding bonds. Yield curves are normally positively sloped, meaning one’s income opportunities generally increase by moving out the curve.

Also favoring shorter-term bonds is the fact that unexpected events can affect markets at any time, so we believe an ultrashort fund’s conservative profile has a place in just about every portfolio that is able to withstand some volatility.

Q: How do asset-backed securities fit into an ultrashort portfolio?

Asset-backed securities (ABS) are well suited to an ultrashort portfolio because their maturities tend to be shorter in nature. Much of the ABS market is based on consumer debt—auto loans, credit cards, equipment leases, time shares, insurance premium receivables and other shorter-term assets with typical maturities of four to five years. By contrast, corporate loan maturities can extend up to 30 years. Also, ABS can be structured and their cash flows parsed into shorter-term bundles of securities, or tranches, making them eligible for investment in short-duration products like ultrashorts.

Although they lack the guarantee of a U.S. government security, a feature of ABS is that they are secured by collateral and credit-enhanced with internal structural features or external protection that supports them.

But most important, we’re very selective about every security we purchase. Not only are securities intensely reviewed before investment, they are continuously monitored as long as they are in the portfolio. For investors with the experience, data and extensive resources to perform the necessary analysis across collateral, structure and servicers—as is the case here at Federated—ABS offer the potential to generate higher yields compared to government bonds without assuming substantial additional risk.

Q: What is the outlook and positioning for the strategy over the next 3 to 6 months?

The Federal Reserve has indicated it will likely pause its rate cuts unless there is clear evidence of a downward economic shift. Nonetheless, we expect to remain in a longer-term low-rate environment. Also contributing to lower yields are the negative interest rates in many regions of the world. This has increased the demand and lowered yields for U.S. bonds. At this time, we are positioning our portfolios a little bit longer and remain positive on credit spread products, specifically investment-grade corporate and ABS. In buying these credit-sensitive bonds, we aim to generate some modest amount of capital appreciation in addition to the coupon yield earned on the portfolio.

Tags Interest Rates . Fixed Income . Volatility .

Views are as of the date above and are subject to change based on market conditions and other factors. These views should not be construed as a recommendation for any specific security or sector.

Bond prices are sensitive to changes in interest rates, and a rise in interest rates can cause a decline in their prices.

Duration is a measure of a security's price sensitivity to changes in interest rates. Securities with longer durations are more sensitive to changes in interest rates than securities of shorter durations.

Investors should carefully consider the fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing. To obtain a summary prospectus or prospectus containing this and other information, contact us or visit FederatedInvestors.com. Please carefully read the summary prospectus or the prospectus before investing.

Investment-grade securities are securities that are rated at least “BBB” or unrated securities of a comparable quality. Non-investment-grade securities are securities that are not rated at least “BBB” or unrated securities of a comparable quality. Credit ratings are an indication of the risk that a security will default. They do not protect a security from credit risk. Lower-rated bonds typically offer higher yields to help compensate investors for the increased risk associated with them. Among these risks are lower creditworthiness, greater price volatility, more risk to principal and income than with higher-rated securities and increased possibilities of default.

Mutual funds are subject to risks and fluctuate in value.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The value of some mortgage-backed securities may be particularly sensitive to changes in prevailing interest rates, and although the securities are generally supported by some form of government or private insurance, there is no assurance that private guarantors or insurers will meet their obligations.

Ultrashort Funds are not "money market" funds.  A money market mutual fund attempts to maintain a stable net asset value through compliance with relevant SEC rules.  The Ultrashort Funds are not governed by those rules, and their shares will fluctuate in value.

Yield Curve: Graph showing the comparative yields of securities in a particular class according to maturity. Securities on the long end of the yield curve have longer maturities.

Federated Securities Corp., Distributor