GW&K Taxable Bond Market Commentary – 2Q23

The fixed income market posted a small loss in the second quarter, giving back a portion of the banking crisis-inspired rally that occurred in the closing days of March. Sentiment was cautious at the outset and investors sought haven assets on the possibility of contagion in the financial sector. But as it became clear that fallout from the failure of several regional lenders was likely to be contained, attention returned to the underlying strength of the economy and the stubborn persistence of inflation. The labor market gave only the slightest indications of softening, the buoyant housing sector continued to defy higher mortgage rates, and consumer spending once again proved irrepressible. Inflation showed limited progress on its path lower, plateauing at a level solidly above the Fed’s 2% target. Against this backdrop, the FOMC endeavored to maintain restrictive financial conditions by raising rates and providing hawkish guidance. There has nevertheless been scant evidence of the Fed’s success in curbing aggregate demand away from some narrow segments of the commercial real estate and consumer finance markets.

Treasuries

The Treasury market was under pressure throughout the quarter. With stress in the banking sector receding and risk aversion dissipating, rates across the curve shifted higher. The front end underperformed as the Fed raised the overnight rate by 25 basis points in May and then, despite choosing to pause in June, increased the projected terminal rate by 50 basis points. The movement in longer rates was comparatively staid, causing several key segments of the yield curve to retest levels of inversion last seen just before the first bank collapsed in March. Similarly, real yields once again approached post-Global Financial Crisis (GFC) highs, suggesting a resumption of a broader tightening trend. Meanwhile, inflation breakevens traded in a remarkably tight range, reflecting the market’s unwavering confidence that the Fed will ultimately achieve its goal.

Corporates

Corporate credit continued to signal a benign outlook for financial distress. Spreads in both investment grade and high yield were tighter on the quarter and substantially inside of wides reached earlier this year. First-quarter earnings showed revenues and margins coming in ahead of relatively downbeat expectations, lending support to the narrative that any downturn in profits is likely to be short and shallow. New issuance has been brisk and access to capital has been ready, with higher rates doing little to dissuade borrowers from coming to market.

Mortgage-Backed Securities

Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) also produced positive excess returns. The FDIC’s liquidation of failed lenders’ balance sheets was met with robust buyside participation, while nominal spreads at post-GFC wides created a compelling relative value proposition for asset allocators. Sentiment was further boosted by slower prepayment speeds, declining rate volatility and the Fed’s evident reluctance to begin selling its MBS.

Outlook

After an extended period of disconnect between the Fed’s forward guidance and the market’s expectations, the Fed has finally persuaded bond investors to follow its lead. The market has now completely priced out what at one point was an expectation of as many as four cuts by the end of 2023, with rates expected to be at or above current levels until mid-2024. Now investors must grapple with the lagged effects of hikes that have already occurred, the potential for yet more tightening and macroeconomic data that will have exaggerated influence as we approach this cycle’s end.

Our view of corporate credit remains somewhat cautious, particularly as the cycle advances and spreads sit inside their long-term averages. We recognize that companies have been successful limiting their sensitivity to rising rates by extending maturities and building liquidity. We also appreciate how resilient profit margins have been despite tightening financial conditions and fears of a slowdown.

The consumer space stands out as an area where we’re being especially selective, as the impulse from last year’s fiscal stimulus fades and consumer savings dwindle. At the same time, we are finding attractive opportunities among blue chip borrowers, which continue to trade at attractive yields. We are also more upbeat on MBS in light of recent spread widening and following the removal of the overhang from bank wind-downs.

Read GW&K’s full Quarterly Investment Review for the second quarter here.

 

With contributions from members of our Taxable Bond Team

Disclosures

Indexes  are  not  subject  to  fees and  expenses  typically  associated  with  managed  accounts  or investment funds. Investments cannot be made directly in an index. Index data has been obtained from third-party data providers that GW&K believes to be reliable, but GW&K does not guarantee its accuracy, completeness  or timeliness. Third-party data  providers make  no  warranties  or  representations  relating  to  the  accuracy, completeness or timeliness of the data they provide and are not liable for any damages relating to this data. The third-party data may not be further redistributed or used without the relevant third-party’s consent. Sources for index data include: Bloomberg (www.bloomberg.com),  FactSet  (www.factset.com),  ICE  (www.theice.com), FTSE Russell (www.ftserussell.com), MSCI (www.msci.com) and Standard & Poor’s (www.standardandpoors.com). Performance results reflect the reinvestment of dividends and income and are expressed in U.S. dollars.  MSCI Index returns are presented net of withholding taxes. This represents the views and opinions of GW&K Investment Management and does not constitute investment advice, nor should it be considered predictive of any future market performance. Opinions expressed are subject to change. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Keep
Reading

GW&K Taxable Bond Market Commentary – 1Q 2024

Taxable Bond | Market Commentary

Following the dovish Fed pivot in December that opened the door to easing monetary policy for 2024, the fixed income market entered the year anticipating steep rate cuts beginning as soon as March.

Read Article
perspectives image

Cash Is Not Always King

Taxable Bond, Municipal Bond | Insight

As interest rates have risen from the latest Fed tightening cycle, many investors have elected to seek shelter from the volatility by investing in short-term vehicles like money market funds or T-bills.

Read Article

Opportunities in Preferred Securities

Taxable Bond | Insight

Taxable Portfolio Manager Stephen Repoff shares his perspective on the perpetual preferred market.

Read Article

Stay Updated & Informed with GW&K

GW&K's CIO and Portfolio Managers share their insights and opinions on the economy and market each quarter.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.