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Income Investing Playbook 2023: It’s Time to Invest in Bonds

December 14, 2022

Read Time 10 MIN

What to buy? Bonds. When? Now. Interest rate normalization has returned us to a world where a far greater range of scenarios can lead to positive returns for bonds.

Looking at the 1970s inflation regime as a guide, we believe fixed income may present one of the best opportunities for investors today. When interest rates are super low, an increase in rates can do a lot of damage to bonds, just like we saw in 2022, which was the worst year for bonds since 1976. Looking at the latter half of the 1970s, however, rates increased from 5% to 10%, yet bonds kept making money.

There are two reasons for this. First, an increase in interest rates from 5% to 6% is much less dramatic than a move from 1% to 2%. Second, when rates rise, investors benefit from higher yields, and indeed carry has come back to the fixed income market, leading current income to play a more significant role in bond returns. For example, at current yields, the income earned on the current 10-year Treasury note provides a return buffer even if rates continue to rise next year. As you move farther out the credit risk curve, the carry is even higher by historical standards. This is enabling fixed income to be more resilient in the face of a wide range of potential market movements, including ones with even higher yields, credit spreads or volatility.

The bottom line is that the risk/reward tradeoff for bonds has significantly improved, and the current market environment represents a very compelling entry point. Of course, determining the right mix of bonds for a broader strategic allocation will depend on each investor’s individual risk appetite. In our 2023 Income Investing Playbook, we provide the resources you need to better understand the risk and opportunities across the fixed income universe.

Don’t Ignore Floating Rate Instruments

Rising interest rates have caused major damage to bond investors this year. While the risk of rising rates has decreased with yields resetting higher, investments with less sensitivity to rate movements are still an important part of any broader fixed income allocation. Floating-rate instruments are an excellent way to gain exposure to the attractive yields in the current market, while still maintaining protection if rates take a turn higher.

In our view, these are three compelling ways to gain exposure to floating rate instruments:

  1. Investment grade floating rate notes (FRNs)
  2. Collateralized loan obligations (CLOs)
  3. Business development companies (BDCs)

FRNs have coupons that are based on a short-term base rate such as the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) or Secured Overnight Funding Rate (SOFR), which reflect short-term funding costs, and an additional fixed spread that reflects the credit risk of the issuer. The floating rate nature of FRNs means they have low or negative correlation to rate-sensitive fixed income asset classes, such as Treasuries or fixed coupon investment grade bonds. This may allow FRNs to fulfill two primary roles that fixed income can have within a balanced portfolio: income and diversification. Further, this is achieved without adding significant credit risk since the bonds carry investment grade ratings. This contrasts with leveraged loans, another floating rate asset class, which provide higher yields but with much higher credit risk.

We believe CLOs are a better way to access leveraged loans. A CLO is a portfolio of predominantly senior secured bank loans (aka leveraged loans) that is securitized and actively managed. Over the long term, CLOs tranches have historically performed well relative to other corporate debt categories, including leveraged loans, high yield bonds and investment grade bonds, and have significantly outperformed at lower rating tiers. CLOs are structured to help mitigate risk, through the strength of their underlying collateral as well as built-in traits such as coverage tests to correct collateral deterioration. This has historically helped them experience significantly lower levels of principal loss when compared with corporate debt and other securitized products. This has resulted in a track record of strong risk-adjusted returns versus other fixed income asset classes, particularly among investment grade rated CLO tranches.

BDCs are another alternative high income source investors should consider when looking to enhance yield in their portfolio while still being mindful of rate sensitivity. BDCs generate income by lending to, and investing in, middle market companies in a variety of ways including equity, debt and hybrid financial instruments. In short, BDCs provide capital to small businesses, and in turn, give investors access to the growth and income potential of private companies that are generally exclusive and difficult to access.

The “High” in High Yield Makes a Comeback

Remember, carry is back. This is especially true as you move out farther on the credit curve into lower quality bonds. As yields have reset, high yield bonds are now offering “high yields” again. This means the current yield level provides a substantial cushion to returns going forward. Although the risk of wider spreads in this uncertain environment is a concern, adding exposure to high yield at much higher yield levels means that carry will likely play a much greater role in driving future returns. We particularly like fallen angel high yield bonds, where yields have jumped to pre-Great Recession levels.

Investment Grade Bonds Are Attractive…If You Know Where to Look

With investment grade corporate bond yields providing meaningful income and with elevated market volatility, we believe there are now opportunities in mispriced bonds with attractive valuations. That said, selectivity matters. Given the size and diversity within corporate bonds, we believe being selective can provide better outcomes for investors. In particular, focusing on attractively valued bonds has historically provided significant outperformance. The market is not homogenous, and there is significant scope for mispricing to exist.

Darkest Before the Dawn: A Bright Outlook for Municipal Bonds

Like other fixed income asset classes, municipal bonds struggled in 2022. However, yields are now higher for municipals than at any time in the past 15 years. And since 1965, a down year in the municipal market has been followed by at least one year (or several) of positive returns.1

And there is good reason to be optimistic. At the end of April, Moody’s Investors Service released its annual municipal bond market snapshot, U.S. municipal bond defaults, and recoveries, 1970-2021, with updates through 2021. In addition to noting that the muni sector continued to recover from the effects of COVID-19, the report also affirms two hallmark benefits muni bonds offer. First, while they may have become more common over the last 15 years, municipal defaults and bankruptcies remain rare overall. (There were no new rated municipal bond defaults during the period of significant market stress in 2021 resulting from COVID.) Second, muni bonds continue, on average, to be highly rated compared to corporates.

The Grass Gets Greener for Green Bonds

Green bonds are financing projects all over the world that have a positive environmental impact and provide a pathway to sustainable development. The green bond market’s explosive growth over the past decade has coincided with increased rigor and transparency. As the market matures, standards continue to tighten as recognition grows that increased ambition is needed along with greater green investment to meet global climate goals.

In the current environment, we believe green bonds offer investors a way to build sustainable core fixed income portfolios without significantly affecting risk and return.

Oh, You Guys Just Raised Rates? Emerging Markets Are Early to the Party

Emerging markets bonds historically do well in rising rate environments—particularly when rates rise due to higher growth prospects rather than a taper tantrum. In addition, compared to the U.S. and other developed markets bonds, emerging markets bonds not only provide significantly higher nominal and real yields on average but also shorter durations.

Notwithstanding China’s more recent policy direction, emerging markets in general have moved much more quickly to increase interest rates compared to the U.S. and other developed market rates in order to stay ahead of inflation. The result has been not only higher nominal yields, but higher real yields. The benefits to emerging markets local currency investors are a more substantial level of income that is not eroded by loss of purchasing power (through a potentially weaker currency) and the potential for rate cuts to stimulate growth, if needed. We believe emerging markets corporate bonds’ strong fundamentals can help cushion the impact of rising U.S. interest rates as recessionary risk grows.

Dividend Investing: Stocks Generate Income, Too!

Dividend stocks are last (but not least) in our 2023 guide to income. Dividend paying companies have been en vogue for much of the last 15 years as investors searched for yield beyond traditional income investments throughout the prolonged low-rate environment. As the tide turns and the market adjusts to elevated inflation, rising rates and increased market volatility, we believe it is best to focus on high dividend yielding U.S. companies with strong financial health and attractive valuations. This allows investors to gain exposure to high yielding companies, but hones in on those that have less of a likelihood of cutting their dividends and aren’t trading at excessive valuations.

We’ll Take All that to Go, Please: Benefits of a Multi-Asset Income Strategy

Take the guesswork out of trying to manage a high yielding portfolio. A multi-asset income strategy offers professional management designed to help investors navigate the underlying risks associated with high income investing. Active management can also help investors navigate turbulent capital markets. By tactically shifting allocations, the portfolio management team may be able to enhance downside protection as well as upside participation.

VanEck Income Investing Solutions

  Name Symbol Exposure
Multi-Asset Income Dynamic High Income ETF INC Actively managed; high yielding segments of the market with broad diversification across income-producing asset classes and adaption to changing market conditions.
Floating Rate BDC Income ETF BIZD Publicly traded business development companies.
CLO ETF CLOI Investment grade-rated tranches of CLOs of any maturity.
IG Floating Rate ETF FLTR U.S. dollar denominated floating rate notes issued by corporate issuers and rated investment grade.
Corporate Bond Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF ANGL Below investment grade corporate bonds denominated in U.S. dollars, issued in the U.S. domestic market and that were rated investment grade at the time of issuance.
Moody’s Analytics BBB Corporate Bond ETF MBBB BBB rated corporate bonds that have attractive valuations and a lower probability of being downgraded to high yield compared to other BBB rated bonds.
Moody’s Analytics IG Corporate Bond ETF MIG Investment grade corporate bonds that have attractive valuations and a lower probability of being downgraded to high yield compared to other investment grade bonds.
Equity Income Energy Income ETF EINC North American companies involved in the midstream energy segment, which includes MLPs, and corporations involved in oil and gas storage and transportation.
Durable High Dividend ETF DURA High dividend yielding U.S. companies with strong financial health and attractive valuations according to Morningstar.
Mortgage REIT Income ETF MORT U.S. mortgage real estate investment trusts.
Preferred Securities ex Financials ETF PFXF U.S. exchange-listed hybrid debt, preferred stock and convertible preferred stock issued by non-financial corporations.
International Bond Emerging Markets Bond Fund EMBAX Actively managed; debt securities issued by governments, quasi-government entities or corporations in emerging market countries, denominated in any currency.
China Bond ETF CBON Fixed-rate, Renminbi-denominated bonds issued in the People's Republic of China by Chinese credit, governmental and quasi-governmental (e.g., policy banks) issuers.
Emerging Markets High Yield Bond ETF HYEM U.S. dollar-denominated bonds issued by non-sovereign emerging markets issuers that are rated below investment grade and that are issued in the major domestic and Eurobond markets.
Green Bond ETF GRNB U.S. dollar-denominated green bonds that are issued to finance environmentally friendly projects, and includes bonds issued by supranational, government, and corporate issuers globally.
International High Yield Bond ETF IHY U.S. dollar, Canadian dollar, pound sterling, and euro denominated below investment grade corporate bonds issued by non-U.S. corporations in the major domestic or Eurobond markets.
J.P. Morgan EM Local Currency Bond ETF EMLC Bonds issued by emerging market governments and denominated in the local currency of the issuer.
Municipal Bond CEF Muni Income ETF XMPT U.S.-listed closed-end funds that invest in U.S. dollar denominated tax-exempt market.
High Yield Muni ETF HYD U.S. dollar denominated high yield long-term tax-exempt bond market.
HIP Sustainable Muni ETF SMI Investment grade municipal debt securities that have been issued to fund operations or projects that support or advance sustainable development, as well as promote positive social and environmental outcomes.
Intermediate Muni ETF ITM U.S. dollar denominated intermediate-term tax-exempt bond market.
Long Muni ETF MLN U.S. dollar denominated long-term tax-exempt bond market.
Muni Allocation ETF MAAX Actively managed; allocates primarily to VanEck municipal exchange-traded products that invest in tax-exempt bonds in pursuit of long-term total return by seeking to reduce duration and/or credit risk during appropriate times.
Short High Yield Muni ETF SHYD U.S. dollar denominated high yield short-term tax-exempt bond market.
Short Muni ETF SMB U.S. dollar denominated short-term tax-exempt bond market.

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IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES

This is not an offer to buy or sell, or a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any of the securities mentioned herein. The information presented does not involve the rendering of personalized investment, financial, legal, or tax advice. Certain statements contained herein may constitute projections, forecasts and other forward looking statements, which do not reflect actual results, are valid as of the date of this communication and subject to change without notice. Information provided by third party sources are believed to be reliable and have not been independently verified for accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. The information herein represents the opinion of the author(s), but not necessarily those of VanEck.

The principal risks of investing in VanEck ETFs include sector, market, economic, political, foreign currency, world event, index tracking, and non-diversification risks, as well as fluctuations in net asset value and the risks associated with investing in less developed capital markets. The Funds may loan their securities, which may subject them to additional credit and counterparty risk. ETFs that invest in high-yield securities are subject to subject to risks associated with investing in high-yield securities; which include a greater risk of loss of income and principal than funds holding higher-rated securities; concentration risk; credit risk; hedging risk; interest rate risk; and short sale risk. ETFs that invest in companies with small capitalizations are subject to elevated risks, which include, among others, greater volatility, lower trading volume and less liquidity than larger companies. Please see the prospectus of each Fund for more complete information regarding each Fund's specific risks.

You can lose money by investing in the VanEck Emerging Markets Bond Fund. Any investment in the Fund should be part of an overall investment program, not a complete program. The Fund is subject to risks associated with its investments in below investment grade securities, credit, credit-linked notes, currency management strategies, debt securities, derivatives, emerging market securities, foreign currency transactions, foreign securities, hedging, other investment companies, Latin American issuers, management, market, non-diversification, operational, portfolio turnover, restricted securities, sectors and sovereign bond risks. 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. As the Fund may invest in securities denominated in foreign currencies and some of the income received by the Fund will be in foreign currencies, changes in currency exchange rates may negatively impact the Fund’s return. Derivatives may involve certain costs and risks such as liquidity, interest rate, and the risk that a position could not be closed when most advantageous. The Fund may also be subject to risks associated with non-investment grade securities.

There are inherent risks with fixed income investing. These risks may include interest rate, call, credit, market, inflation, government policy, liquidity, or junk bond. When interest rates rise, bond prices fall. This risk is heightened with investments in longer duration fixed-income securities and during periods when prevailing interest rates are low or negative.

There are inherent risks with equity investing. These risks include, but are not limited to stock market, manager, or investment style. Stock markets tend to move in cycles, with periods of rising prices and periods of falling prices.

An investment in a Collateralized Loan Obligation (CLO) may be subject to risks which include, among others, debt securities, LIBOR Replacement, foreign currency, foreign securities, investment focus, newly-issued securities, extended settlement, management, derivatives, cash transactions, market, operational, trading issues, and non-diversified risks. CLOs may also be subject to liquidity, interest rate, floating rate obligations, credit, call, extension, high yield securities, income, valuation, privately-issued securities, covenant lite loans, default of the underlying asset and CLO manager risks, all of which may adversely affect the value of the investment.

The yields and market values of municipal securities may be more affected by changes in tax rates and policies than similar income-bearing taxable securities. Certain investors' incomes may be subject to the Federal Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and taxable gains are also possible.

Emerging Market securities are subject to greater risks than U.S. domestic investments. These additional risks may include exchange rate fluctuations and exchange controls; less publicly available information; more volatile or less liquid securities markets; and the possibility of arbitrary action by foreign governments, or political, economic or social instability.

Business Development Companies (BDC) invest in private companies and thinly traded securities of public companies, including debt instruments of such companies. Generally, little public information exists for private and thinly traded companies and there is a risk that investors may not be able to make fully informed investment decisions. Less mature and smaller private companies involve greater risk than well-established and larger publicly traded companies. Investing in debt involves risk that the issuer may default on its payments or declare bankruptcy and debt may not be rated by a credit rating agency. Many debt investments in which a BDC may invest will not be rated by a credit rating agency and will be below investment grade quality. These investments have predominantly speculative characteristics with respect to an issuer's capacity to make payments of interest and principal. BDCs may not generate income at all times. Additionally, limitations on asset mix and leverage may prohibit the way that BDCs raise capital.

Sustainable Investing Considerations: Sustainable investing strategies aim to consider and in some instances integrate the analysis of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into the investment process and portfolio. Strategies across geographies and styles approach ESG analysis and incorporate the findings in a variety of ways. Incorporating ESG factors or Sustainable Investing considerations may inhibit the portfolio manager’s ability to participate in certain investment opportunities that otherwise would be consistent with its investment objective and other principal investment strategies.

ESG investing is qualitative and subjective by nature, and there is no guarantee that the factors utilized by VanEck or any judgment exercised by VanEck will reflect the opinions of any particular investor. Information regarding responsible practices is obtained through voluntary or third-party reporting, which may not be accurate or complete, and VanEck is dependent on such information to evaluate a company’s commitment to, or implementation of, responsible practices. Socially responsible norms differ by region. There is no assurance that the socially responsible investing strategy and techniques employed will be successful. An investment strategy may hold securities of issuers that are not aligned with ESG principles.

Please call 800.826.2333 or visit vaneck.com for a free prospectus and summary prospectus. An investor should consider the investment objective, risks, and charges and expenses of the investment company carefully before investing. The prospectus and summary prospectus contain this and other information about the investment company. Please read the prospectus and summary prospectus carefully before investing.

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