Understanding Investing

Looking Beyond Low Yields to Understand Bond Performance

Yields matter, but they are not the only indicator of a bond’s performance potential. In fact, as our case study shows, bond returns can be higher than their initial low or negative yields thanks to roll down – an investment strategy that skilled active managers can use to boost return potential.

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Text on screen: PIMCO

Text on screen: PIMCO provides services only to qualified institutions and investors. This is not an offer to any person in any jurisdiction where unlawful or unauthorized.

Text on screen: Chris Tarui, Executive Vice President, Account Manager

Tarui: Good afternoon. I’m Chris Tarui, a senior member of PIMCO’s client management practice focused on our engagement with some of the largest allocators across the United States. Today I’m joined by Jerry Tsai, a senior member of PIMCO’s client solutions and analytics team, a group of over 80 individuals that are solely focused on conducting investment research on behalf of PIMCO and our clients.

Today’s conversation will be focused on a front of mind issue across our global client base: what is the return potential for bonds in this low yield environment? Jerry, thanks for joining us today.

Much has been said about portfolio headwinds associated with the low and even negative yields that we see particularly across developed sovereign bonds.

Are there case studies in history that may help shed light for investors on the potential path of bond returns despite periods of persistently low yields?

Text on screen: Jerry Tsai, Vice President, Quantitative Research Analyst

Tsai: Thank you for the introduction, Chris. Indeed, even though low yield is new for many countries, including the U.S., it is not a completely new phenomenon for some other developed economies. So what we can do here is that we can actually take a look at some of these other countries and see how their bonds have performed in these low yield environments and learn from their experiences.

So the most familiar case here is probably Japan. Yield in Japan has been low for over two decades. More specifically, for example, if you look at ten-year Japanese government bond yield, it has been below 2% since the late 1990s and fell below 1% in 2010.

Chevron split screen – Text on screen (left): Despite low yields, 10-year Japanese government bonds returned nearly 2.2% annually from 1999-2020; Image on right: Japan, Japanese Stock Exchange

And however, despite this low yield, during the period between 1999 and 2020,10-year JGB actually delivered a positive return, around 2.2% per year.

So some might think this is quite impressive given that the average 10-year bond yield during this period is only around 1%. So in addition, the return has also been quite consistent, and it was only negative for three out of the past 22 years.

Overall, 10-year JGB has delivered a Sharpe ratio of around 0.9. In comparison, during the same period, Japanese equities has a Sharpe ratio only around 0.3.

Why is this the case? How are the returns on bonds higher than their initial yields?

FULL PAGE GRAPHIC – Title: Roll down: How bond returns can be higher than their yields; text: Yields remain low + upward sloping yield curve + buying longer dated bonds with higher yields = positive returns by “rolling down the yield curve” (selling at a premium before maturity)

The secret here lies in rolldown. It is true that lower yields and rising rates could lead to lower bond returns.

However, the reality is that as long as yields remain low and the yield curve is in its normal upward-sloping shape, investors can actually collect a positive return by buying longer dated bonds with higher yields and let them roll down the yield curve.

So let’s consider an example here. Let’s consider the case where the yield curve is upward-sloping, and let’s assume that it doesn’t move across time. So in this case, think of an investor that buys a 10-year bond and holds it for one year.

So in this case, the investor will get a return that is higher than the initial 10-year bond yield. And why is that? That is because in addition to the 10-year bond yield, the 10-year bond is going to become a 9-year bond during this one year, and in the process, the yield is going to decrease. Therefore, it’s rewarding the investor for additional rolldown return.

Now, going back to the Japan example, in this case, the carry plus rolldown for the 10-year JGB over the last 22 years is on average around 1.9% per year, which contributes to the majority of the return in this case. And Japan is not alone here. Although bonds in Europe have been trading at a lower yield for a much shorter period of time, it nonetheless provides us with another example.

So here we’re going to take a look in Germany. In Germany, the 10-year German bund yield has fell below 1% in 2014 and the average 10-year yields in the last six years or so was around 20 basis points.          

Chevron Split Screen – Text on left: Despite low yields, 10-year German government bonds returned nearly 3.6% over the past six years; Image on right: Japan, Japanese Stock Exchange

However, similar to Japan, despite the yield being so low, 10-year German bund has delivered a positive return, and it’s on average around 3.6% per year for the last six years.

So while the conditions for each of these cases are unique and different, these two case studies could provide some leading indicators for where the rest of us may be headed.

Tarui: Those are very useful and interesting perspectives, Jerry, linking the perhaps somewhat counterintuitive relationship between yield, rolldown, and total return. We thank you for your time, and thanks to all of you for joining us.

Text on screen: For more insights and information, visit Pimco.com

Text on screen: PIMCO

Disclosure


Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and low interest rate environments increase this risk. Reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Sovereign securities are generally backed by the issuing government. Obligations of U.S. government agencies and authorities are supported by varying degrees, but are generally not backed by the full faith of the U.S. government. Portfolios that invest in such securities are not guaranteed and will fluctuate in value. Investing in foreign-denominated and/or -domiciled securities may involve heightened risk due to currency fluctuations, and economic and political risks, which may be enhanced in emerging markets. Equities may decline in value due to both real and perceived general market, economic and industry conditions.

Japanese Government Bond (JGB)

The Sharpe Ratio measures the risk-adjusted performance. The risk-free rate is subtracted from the rate of return for a portfolio and the result is divided by the standard deviation of the portfolio returns.

Statements concerning financial market trends or portfolio strategies are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are appropriate for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest for the long term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision. Outlook and strategies are subject to change without notice.

This material contains the opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed.

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