Cameron Passmore CIM, FMA, FCSI

Portfolio Manager

Benjamin Felix MBA, CFA, CFP

Associate Portfolio Manager
  • T613.237.5544 x 313
  • 1.800.230.5544
  • F613.237.5949
  • 265 Carling Avenue,
    8th Floor,
  • Ottawa, Ontario K1S 2E1

Looking for yield in all the wrong places

March 3, 2014 - 0 comments

The current low-yield environment has made it very easy for investors to question the value of holding bonds in their portfolios.  With interest rates staying low as long as they have, concerns have surfaced around frustratingly low yields, and the fear of rising interest rates decimating the value of bonds. If bond yields can be matched by GICs, and GICs won’t lose value if interest rates rise, why would anyone hold bonds at all? Let’s consider this question while ignoring the interest rate environment altogether. 

Bonds reduce volatility in a portfolio and provide an asset class that does not move in lock step with equities; they are not added to a portfolio to produce higher expected returns, but to allow investors to weather the inevitable swings in the equity markets.  When an investor looks at their fixed income allocation as a source of yield rather than a source of risk reduction, they are looking for yield in the wrong place.

In a strong economy with low yields, some investors begin to feel that they can simply replace their bond allocation with dividend paying stocks. This strategy eliminates the risk reducing effects of a fixed income allocation and leaves the investor fully exposed to fluctuations in the equity market.  When investors begin searching for yield in their fixed income portfolio, they end up taking on additional risk rather than managing it.  Looking at bonds strictly as a risk management asset class changes the nature of the yield discussion.

At PWL, we don’t claim to predict the future.  It is obvious that interest rates are low today, but nobody knows what they will be tomorrow.  When we build portfolios, we focus our equity allocation on risks that have proven to have higher expected returns while keeping a bond allocation in place to manage overall portfolio volatility.  Due to the fact that we are not chasing yield, it becomes possible to construct a fixed income allocation using investment and higher grade short-term bonds. These securities will have lower yields than low-grade or long term bonds, but they also carry less volatility. Implementing this fixed income strategy allows us to reduce interest rate risk in our bond allocations while also maintaining the liquidity that is necessary to systematically rebalance - something that is lost with GICs.

Every investor should appreciate the effects of exposure to riskier asset classes with higher expected returns, but it is important to understand that regardless of their yield, there is no replacement for bonds in a robust portfolio. So what will we do if interest rates rise and the value of your bond allocation decreases?  We will follow our rules and rebalance the portfolio by buying more high quality short-term bonds at the new, higher rates.

By: Ben Felix & Max Lane with 0 comments.
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