A benchmark serves a crucial role in investing. Often a market index, a benchmark typically provides a starting point for a portfolio manager to construct a portfolio and directs how that portfolio should be managed on an ongoing basis from the perspectives of both risk and return. It also allows investors to gauge the relative performance of their portfolios.
The bond market is by far the largest securities market in the world, providing investors with virtually limitless investment options. Many investors are familiar with aspects of the market, but as the number of new products grows, even a bond expert is challenged to keep pace. Once viewed as a means of earning interest while preserving capital, bonds have evolved into a $100 trillion global marketplace that can offer many potential benefits to investment portfolios, including attractive returns. Before tackling the complexities of this huge and diverse market, it is important to understand the basics: What is a bond and how can bonds help meet your investment goals?
Commodities are a distinct asset class with returns that are largely independent of stock and bond returns. Therefore, adding broad commodity exposure can help diversify a portfolio of stocks and bonds, potentially lowering the risk of an overall portfolio and boosting returns. Given their impact on consumer goods prices, commodities can also offer a hedge against inflation.
After government bonds, the corporate bond market is the largest section of the global bond universe. With a vast array of maturities, yields and credit quality available, investing in corporate bonds has the potential to provide higher yields than government bonds and diversification benefits for investors.
Originally formed to provide banks with the means to transfer credit exposure, CDS has grown as an active portfolio management tool. The performance of CDS, like that of corporate bonds, is closely related to changes in credit spreads. This makes them an effective tool for hedging risk, and efficiently taking credit exposure.
The currency market is the largest and most liquid financial market in the world. Currencies like the U.S. dollar, the British pound and the euro trade in the foreign exchange (FX) market 24 hours a day, fluctuating in value relative to each other almost constantly – and there are several paths to potential profits in the FX market.
Most bond investors know that interest rate changes can affect the value of their fixed income holdings. How a bond or bond portfolio’s value is likely to be impacted by rising or falling rates is best measured by duration.
High yield bonds – defined as corporate bonds rated below BBB− or Baa3 by established credit rating agencies – can play an important role in many portfolios. They typically offer higher coupons than government bonds or high grade corporates and have the potential for price appreciation in the event of an improvement in the economy, or performance of the issuing company (of course, if these conditions worsen, then prices can also go down). Because the high yield sector generally has a low correlation to other sectors of the fixed income market along with less sensitivity to interest rate risk, an allocation to high yield bonds may provide portfolio diversification benefits. In addition, high yield bond investments have historically offered similar returns to equity markets, but with lower volatility.
Inflation affects all aspects of the economy, from consumer spending, business investment and employment rates to government programs, tax policies, and interest rates. Understanding inflation is crucial to investing because inflation can reduce the value of investment returns.
Inflation-linked bonds, or ILBs, are securities designed to help protect investors from inflation. Primarily issued by sovereign governments, such as the U.S. and the UK, ILBs are indexed to inflation so that the principal and interest payments rise and fall with the rate of inflation. Inflation can significantly erode investors’ purchasing power, and ILBs can potentially provide protection from inflation’s effects. ILBs may also offer additional benefits in a broader portfolio context.