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The Bond Market.

2020, a year that will be marked in history by a pandemic that had devastating effects on global health and economic activity to individuals and nations across the world.

     
In financial markets, the effects of the pandemic set forth a rollercoaster of volatility that spotlighted the fundamental role of bonds in investment portfolios.
 
Making the case for bonds just 12 months ago would have been a difficult task. In June 2019, the share market was experiencing its eleventh straight year of growth following the GFC – the ASX 200 was a mere 500 points from its all-time record of 7,145. Equities were on an unbelievable bull run, and what was to make anyone believe that this would not continue? Investor portfolios had not been tested in any serious fashion for more than a decade.
 
When markets feel at their best is perhaps when it is most paramount for investors to keep a perspective on their long-term goals. Whether those goals be for life in retirement, to ensure a well-being for others, or for philanthropy, an investment portfolio likely entails a multi-decade horizon, and as a result, needs the ability to withstand the machinations of markets over various periods.
 
Going back to June 2019, many an investor considering a rebalance of their portfolio would have questioned the logic of diversifying away from outperforming growth assets – equities – and reallocating to bonds. High-quality bonds are boring – they are often synonymous with stability and income. It would have felt like leaving money on the table.
 
The vanilla nature of high-quality, investment grade bonds, would have lulled many an investor into overlooking one of their most alluring aspects during the past decade's equity run. Bonds are a diversifier in an investor's portfolio, serving as a ballast to equities in a market downturn. While there is a spectrum of bond offerings in the market, we are focusing this conversation on investment grade bonds and the role they play in a diversified portfolio.
 
The market volatility during the first half of 2020 starkly displayed the differing characteristics between equities and other growth assets and bonds. This period provides valuable insights for investors managing a long term portfolio; specifically, how bonds can reduce all-in losses versus an all equity asset mix.
 
The chart below compares the daily return of a global bond and global equity portfolio between January and June of 2020, scaled to 100 at the start of the year. The first thing that jumps out is the deep "V" of equities in March relative to the muted dip in bonds. Both asset classes experienced a period of negative returns, but of significantly different magnitudes. Equities have yet to fully recover. Equity optimists may raise the point to the recovery of equities over a longer horizon, however, this article is not an argument against the long term benefits of equity exposure, but rather how the two asset classes complement each other in a portfolio.
 
 
The wild, daily swings in March and April were enough to unnerve any investor, and the trap for investors was selling equities when things felt their worst – participating in the downswing, locking in losses, and missing the opportunity to partake in the recovery. Exposure to investment grade bonds during this period served as a cushion, dampening overall portfolio volatility and potential losses, leaving an investor better placed to ride out the volatility and experience the equity rebound.
The table below compares global and local equity and investment grade bond returns over the first half of the year. This period was exceptionally volatile, but it does a nice job at illustrating the diversifying effect of bonds in a portfolio. Over longer, less volatile periods, while the balancing benefit of bonds is more subtle, they still produce value for a long-term investor, especially if short term market conditions trigger the need for realisation of losses in an overweight equity position.
 
So, just as the chart above demonstrates the stability provided by bonds, the table below shows the benefit in times of volatility. While the prima facie return from bonds is modest across different phases of the first half of 2020, the differential with equities is large, as seen with the far right columns. The comparative out performance of bonds is in double digits for the half year, the first quarter and the month of March.
 
 
  Global Bond Australian Bond Global Equity Australian Equity Bond vs Stocks (Global) Bond vs Stocks (Australian)
1H 2020 3.81% 3.53% -7.81% -11.76% 11.62% 15.29%
1Q 2020 1.28% 2.99% -22.65% -24.05% 23.92% 27.03%
March 2020 -1.86% -0.21% -14.51% -21.18% 12.65% 20.97%
 

Global Bond: Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Float Adjusted Index
Australian Bond: Bloomberg AusBond Composite Index
Global Equity: FTSE Global All Cap Index
Australian Equity: S&P/ASX 200 Index

 
So here we are, in the second half of 2020, post one of the shortest and sharpest bear markets in history – and many investors who were overweight in higher risk asset classes would have coveted the downside protection that high quality bonds would have provided. Even though equities have partially rebounded, most markets are sitting on losses year-to-date. Those with little diversification away from equities are probably feeling better now than in March, although the sting may not have fully worn off.
 
Looking ahead, there remains a cloud of uncertainty for global health, economies, and markets as a result of COVID-19. Recent history has shown there is no better time to appreciate and utilise the benefits of investment grade bonds in your portfolio. As mentioned earlier, there are different types of bonds available for investment, and each type and class play a role in a diversified portfolio depending on your investment goals, risk aversion, and time horizon. High yield, lower quality bonds might fit in one person's portfolio but not another's. High yield bonds do not provide the same degree of diversification from equity behaviour as do investment grade bonds. For this reason, investors need to make sure they understand what their portfolio's bond allocation is exposed to.
 
Whether you prefer index investing, active funds, or a mix of both, be sure you consider the benefit of diversification and the crucial role that bonds can play within your portfolio. For those uncomfortable making the asset allocation between growth assets and bonds, there are diversified fund options to ensure you can still include a bond component in your portfolio.
 
As always this should entail a consideration of your long term goals, risk appetite and the fees you will be paying. That way, the lessons of 2020 will ensure bonds will be an important part of helping you achieve your investment goals, whatever they may be.
 
 
Geoff Parrish
Head of Fixed Income Group, Asia-Pacific
28 July 2020
vanguardinvestments.com.au
 
 
An iteration of this article was first published in The AFR on 29 July 2020.

David Forrest Download David's Adviser Profile

David Forrest

Director
BEc (Acc), MBA, CPA, FFin

David has been in the Financial Services Industry for nearly 30 years. He was one of the founding Directors of the successful Financial Planning and Stockbroking Practice, Henderson Gregory Forrest, for a decade. Prior to that, he held senior roles in companies such as ING, KPMG Accountants and AMP. David was previously Chairman of OAMPS Superannuation Trustee Board and currently serves as an independent Board Director for several companies.

David’s extensive experience in all forms of superannuation, including Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF), Defined Benefit Funds, retirement funding through Account Based Pensions, stockbroking with a focus on Direct Share Investment, Taxation/Remuneration Planning, Centrelink, Aged Care and business management, equip him to advise expertly on all aspects of Financial Advice.

Those with a particular interest in superannuation/SMSFs, direct share investment, salary packaging or applying for the Centrelink Pension will find his knowledge and ability in formulating and implementing creative, logical and simple wealth creation strategies a valuable asset.

David maintains a strong personalised client service focus, providing tailored solutions for clients.

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David Forrest is an Authorised Representative of Integrity Financial (SA) Pty Ltd ABN 16 133 921 187 — AFSL No 334846

Michelle Forrest

Michelle Forrest

Business Finance Manager
B Bus (Acc), CPA

Michelle’s career has spanned across the Financial Services, Retirement Living and Aged Care industries working in the private sector, not for profit and more recently with the state government for over 20 years. Her experience extends to many facets of the financial services industry, having worked in superannuation administration, technical support and financial planning practice administration.

Commencing with AMP and subsequently working in commerce and accounting roles with companies such as Brambles, Adelaide Bank Retirement Services, ECH Inc and SA Health and Wellbeing, Michelle returns to financial services after working in practice financial management at Henderson Gregory Forrest. This wide range of experience from senior accounting and management roles has provided Michelle with a strong background in business administration.

With an astute financial acumen and keen interest in business improvement strategies, Michelle ensures the smooth running of the Integrity Financial Advisory practice providing valued management support to our personalised client service focus.

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Darren Chalk Download Darren's Adviser Profile

Darren Chalk

Financial Adviser
B Com, Dip FP

Darren joins the Integrity team as a strong technical specialist with almost 20 years’ in the Financial Services industry. He has extensive experience advising clients on how to build and protect wealth, prepare for retirement and retire comfortably.

Commencing with advising clients on direct equities for over 10 years at Baker Young, Tolhurst Noall, and ABN AMRO Morgans, his career expanded to providing holistic client advice, having operated his own financial services licence and company. Most recently having worked for a 'Big 4' bank, he has welcomed the more personalised ‘client first’ approach that is evident at Integrity Financial Advisory.

With a deep understanding of investment markets, he is appropriately qualified and authorised to provide direct share advice, as well as superannuation/SMSF advice, encompassing both investments and insurance.

Meticulous in his approach, he aims to deliver quality outcomes for clients by understanding their financial situation and needs before providing advice which is central to our advice process. Darren supports David in tailoring solutions for all client financial advice needs.

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Darren Chalk is an Authorised Representative of Integrity Financial (SA) Pty Ltd ABN 16 133 921 187 — AFSL No 334846

Natasha Bartlett

Natasha Bartlett

Client Service Manager

Natasha commenced working in the financial services industry in June 2008 and is a new addition to the Integrity team. During the past 11 years, she worked closely with advisers providing administration support in a share broking and financial advice business.

Having successfully completed her RG146 accreditation in securities and managed investments and continued her studies to complete her competency in Superannuation, Natasha can ably assist with all aspects of fixed interest, cash management, portfolio administration, direct shares and client advice implementation.

Natasha takes time to ensure she understands our client’s financial goals and needs and believes in creating, preserving and utilising wealth through effective financial management as a key objective in helping clients.

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Kelly Collins

Kelly Collins

Client Service Manager

Kelly has worked in the Financial Services Industry for over 10 years and has supported David since 2013. Kelly’s primary background is in customer service and administration.

On starting in the industry, Kelly initially focused on direct shares, stockbroking administration and client liaison. Since moving to the Client Service Manager role, Kelly has developed skills encompassing all aspects of financial planning including client advice implementation and term deposit management.

Kelly’s experience in the direct share environment, especially management of estates, provides a key part of the direct equity expertise in Integrity’s Client Service Team.

Returning from Parental Leave following the arrival of her second child, Kelly has developed further honed multi-tasking skills after juggling the demands of a growing family.

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Jasmine Smith

Jasmine Smith

Client Service Manager

Jasmine has worked in the financial services industry for over 12 years in all areas of client administration, working with David since 2013.

Jasmine has extensive knowledge and experience in client service including implementation of advice, portfolio reporting, assisting with the establishment of Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs), term deposit management and a long history of helping clients with their enquiries.

Jasmine’s attention to detail, yet gentle approach, means she is able to solve the trickiest of questions for our client community.

Jasmine has gained her Certificate III in Financial Services qualification.

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Merrilyn Smith

Merrilyn Smith

Client Service Manager

Merrilyn has worked in the financial services industry for over 11 years in all areas of client administration, and is a new addition to our client services team, returning from Melbourne to join the team in June 2019.

Merrilyn has extensive knowledge and experience in client service including implementation of advice, managed fund administration, assisting with the establishment of Self Managed Super Funds (SMSFs) and process improvement for the previous practices she has worked with. Merrilyn’s experience with direct shares constitutes the other part of our administrative support for direct equity investments.

Merrilyn’s warm and caring nature continues to endear her to our clients and she has already established herself as a valued member of our team.

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