e-fundresearch: So where should bond funds look to generate out-performance in 2010?
Leduc: As a dedicated fixed income house Standish is fortunate that it has a full range of specialist single sector strategies under one roof from which a globally focused fund can draw investment ideas.
e-fundresearch: Are Government Bonds still an attractive investment in these days?
Leduc: Standish believes that Government Bonds represent an attractive investment opportunity on two fronts. First, the credit crisis sparked by the collapse of the US housing market in 2007 resulted in an unprecedented response by governments across the world to head off a fatal collapse in confidence within the financial sector. Resultant low rates at the very front end lead to an extremely steep curve between 2 and 10 year maturities whether looking at EUR, GBP or USD notwithstanding the fact that the long mid to long end of the yield curve itself remains tight as an overhang of the headlong rush into safe haven government debt in the latter part of 2008, quantitative easing and lingering doubts about the sustainability of the recovery that could otherwise stoke inflationary fears.
Whilst we believe that the most likely scenario is for “at trend” growth for 2010 with global GDP expanding by around 2.5% we believe that rates could remain lower for longer and do therefore see value in playing the steepness of the curve through being overweight 5 to 7 year maturities at the expense of being short the very front end of the curve.
The second area of attraction that we see in government debt is within the EU peripheral countries. The cost of bank bail outs, stimulus packages and quantitative easing has been enormous and the socialisation of private sector debt will remain as a lasting legacy of the Credit Crunch.
e-fundresearch: Which over- and underweights does the fund currently hold?
Leduc: The BNY Mellon Euroland Bond Fund began 2010 with an underweight position to Greece and the other EU peripherals which served well in the opening weeks of the year. We have now looked to reduce our underweight and indeed have now moved to a modest overweight position on Spain where we think concerns had been overdone and where we see value. Market pricing had clearly begun to reflect concern that Spain could follow in Greece´s footsteps and the Spanish government faces a severe test as it attempts to push forward with an austerity programme to address a deficit running at 11.4% of GDP at the end of 2009. Spain is far from being alone amongst developed economies in grappling with the fiscal hangover of the Credit Crisis but we believe that the widening in yields now largely prices in concerns about the execution of its austerity programme.
The yield differential between 10 year German and Spanish government bonds had opened up by 100bps earlier this year but has since tightened by almost 30bps to stand close to 70bps difference. If you consider that less than 3 years ago Spanish government debt was trading barely 10bps wide of Germany then there remains scope for further convergence as markets are won over by the government´s plan to get tough on reducing its deficit.
e-fundresearch: What is your opinion on Greece?
Leduc: Greece has become a test of credibility for the EU project and the single currency. Richer EU nations can be quite justified in their disappointment of the Greek government´s handling of the current debt crisis and lengths to which it had appeared to present a more robust fiscal position than in fact it did. Negative sentiment has seen the EUR weaken against the USD by nearly 10% since the end of November when the market began to focus on European sovereign risk in the aftermath of the well publicised problems in Dubai. We do not believe that the leading economies of the EU will permit the single currency to unravel as a result of the fiscal crisis facing Greece and therefore we think it likely that a Franco-German led solution will be developed to address their southern member´s liquidity needs for 2010 should the need arise.
e-fundresearch: Which other sectors, apart from Government Bonds, are attractive for investors now?
Leduc: The other key areas where we believe investors are adequately rewarded for the risk are high yield and emerging market sovereign local currency debt. Our risk models show that there remains value in high yield debt. After peaking at over 13% in November 2009, Moody’s now believes that the trailing 12 months global high yield default rate will fall to a fraction under 3% by the end of 2010. As well as providing still attractive returns – the global high yield sector offers a yield to maturity of around 8.9% - an allocation to this asset class also provides something of a hedge against inflation as high yield borrowers typically have a shorter duration than government and investment grade issuers and a stronger pricing environment for products and services should result in improved debt coverage ratios given the high operational leverage of many companies. In particular we believe that the “BB” sector of the high yield market offers an attractive risk/return and represents around 15% of the fund’s exposure.
e-fundresearch: How does sovereign debt influence the market?
Leduc: Emerging Market local currency sovereign debt represents another important source of return for the fund. Emerging Market local currency debt can generate returns both through yield duration and currency appreciation versus the major world currencies, providing diversification away from traditional “spread” product. Drawing upon the expertise of the Standish’s eight strong Emerging Market debt team the BNY Mellon Euroland Bond Fund has taken exposure to a variety of sovereign issuers in local currency emerging markets including Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and Poland. Strong economic growth within these countries together with evolving domestic (and increasingly foreign) demand from institutional investors & pension funds provides further support for local currency sovereign debt and helps underpin valuations.
e-fundresearch: Is there any chance for manageable outperformance in 2010?
Leduc: Benchmark out-performance in 2010 will be harder to achieve than in 2009 when risk assets bounced back after the indiscriminate reverses of 2008. Strong and sustainable economic recovery across Europe and the US has still to be fully reflected in developed government bond markets and when it does the outlook for yields is likely to be bearish. In the meantime bond funds can benefit from the steepness of the curve and the dislocations across European bond markets caused by rising government deficits. The trick in 2010 is to be nimble and to take advantage of a broad range of sector strategies to provide diversification of returns, responding to opportunity as it arises and not to be wedded to such large positions that should any asset class begin to encounter headwinds then the fund would struggle to exit the position in a timely manner and so be exposed to underperformance. The year ahead promises to be no less easy to navigate than the last two but we would expect the multi strategy approach used on the BNY Mellon Euroland Bond Fund to provide the best chance of delivering out-performance.
e-fundresearch: Thank you for the interview!