Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 30

Spotlight

The Game Is Up
By Miriam Sjoblom

The bargains are gone, yields are low, and rates are bound to rise. Discouraged? You should be.

“The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play.” —Marla Daniels, “The Wire” In the HBO drama “The Wire,” Marla Daniels was talking about city politics, but her advice could be applied to today’s fixed-income markets. Bond investors, take heed: The game looks rigged. Owners of bonds get their returns from two places: income and price appreciation (or depreciation). In light of the low level of current yields across bond sectors and the threat of higher rates to come, neither factor gives investors cause for optimism. Now that 2009’s record-breaking bargains are gone, bond fund managers’ jobs have gotten a lot tougher. The same risks that roiled markets in the past decade won’t necessarily dominate in the one ahead, and it’s more important than ever to understand the compromises and trade-offs bond managers now must make. Otherwise, in this game, you and your clients won’t have a sporting chance.
An Income Shortage

common benchmark for many domestic investment-grade bond funds, is as low as it’s been in its nearly four-decade history. To put that into context, the index yielded anywhere from 7% to 10% for much of the 1970s. It then climbed as high as 15% in 1981 but dropped below 9% by the end of that decade. During the 1990s, it fluctuated between 5% and 9%. So, from an income standpoint, bond investors are hobbled. Even if yields stay where they are for the time being and investors in index-hugging taxable-bond funds are able to collect their 3.5% return from clipping bond coupons, that’s still a far cry from the 6% annualized return delivered by Vanguard Total Bond Market Index VBMFX during the past decade, or its 7.5% annualized gain in the 1990s. Actively managed bond funds with high-quality mandates aren’t in much better shape. After 2009’s rebound, the additional yield offered by some bond sectors has narrowed considerably. For example, the average yield spread on investment-grade corporate bonds has narrowed to less than 150 basis points today from 600 basis points in late 2008. (The highest-quality corporates now offer a slim 50 basis points over Treasuries.) As a result, the average absolute yield on investment-grade corporates has dropped below 4.5%.

Many managers have often relied on agency mortgage-backed securities—those issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae—for extra income, but they’re finding that to be more difficult today. The Federal Reserve’s gradual purchase of $1.25 trillion in agency mortgages (it finished buying in March) has driven prices up and yields down to the point where many managers argue they’ve rarely looked more expensive. Government programs such as the Term Asset-Backed Loan Facility and the Public-Private Investment Partnership have had their intended effect of restoring liquidity to the nongovernment securitized bond market, but they’ve also raised valuations in the asset-backed and commercial mortgage-backed securities sectors. Meanwhile, the private securitization of commercial and residential mortgages has not revived, and that lack of supply is another factor pushing yields lower.
A Threat on the Horizon

Let’s start with income. After 2009’s rebound among nongovernment bonds, yields across bond sectors now hover near their all-time lows. The 3.5% yield on the Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index, a

If a paltry income stream isn’t enough to get you rattled, perhaps the threat of higher yields will. That’s not to say a huge spike in interest rates is imminent. The broad market consensus expects the Federal Reserve to keep its target short-term rate near zero for several more months, if not through the rest of 2010. Ben Bernanke’s Fed has also gone to considerable lengths to remove the element of surprise from its playbook, and it’s consid-

30 Morningstar Advisor June/July 2010



Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010

Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010
Contents
New on MorningstarAdvisor.com
Contributors
Letter From the Editor
What Risks to Bonds Are You Most Concerned About?
The Irrational Lizard Brain
Investment Briefs
The Problem With Financial Plans
Preparing for Turbulance
Different Models, Similar Results
The Game Is Up
Some People Are Bullish on Bonds
Bonds We Like
What Does Harry Markowitz Think?
Escape From the Pack
Four Picks for the Present
Rising Rates Could Affect Equities, Too
The Banking Sector Knocks on Wood
Back to Basics
On the Prowl for Smooth Operators
Mutual Fund Analyst Picks
50 Most Popular ETFs
Undervalued Stocks With Wide Moats
New at Morningstar
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Cover2
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 1
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 2
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Contents
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 4
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 5
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - New on MorningstarAdvisor.com
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 7
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Contributors
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Letter From the Editor
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - What Risks to Bonds Are You Most Concerned About?
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 11
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 12
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 13
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - The Irrational Lizard Brain
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 15
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Investment Briefs
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 17
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - The Problem With Financial Plans
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 19
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 20
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Preparing for Turbulance
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 22
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 23
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Different Models, Similar Results
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 25
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 26
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 27
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 28
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 29
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - The Game Is Up
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 31
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 32
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 32a
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 32b
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 32c
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 32d
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 33
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Some People Are Bullish on Bonds
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 35
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 36
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Bonds We Like
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 38
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 39
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 40
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 41
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 42
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - What Does Harry Markowitz Think?
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 44
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 45
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 46
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 47
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 48
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 49
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 50
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 51
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Escape From the Pack
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 53
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 54
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 55
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 56
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Four Picks for the Present
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 58
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 59
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Rising Rates Could Affect Equities, Too
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 61
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 62
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - The Banking Sector Knocks on Wood
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 64
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 65
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Back to Basics
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 67
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - On the Prowl for Smooth Operators
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 69
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Mutual Fund Analyst Picks
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 71
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 72
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 73
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 50 Most Popular ETFs
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 75
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Undervalued Stocks With Wide Moats
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 77
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - 78
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - New at Morningstar
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Cover3
Morningstar Advisor - June/July 2010 - Cover4
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