Building a Bond Portfolio

June 2018

How to Build a Bond Portfolio

By Elsa Ouattara

An investment portfolio should not consist of just shares and property. Apart from the concentration to just two asset classes that arises, heightening portfolio risk, it reduces the likelihood of producing consistent and regular income from a broader based investment strategy.

An often neglected investment that can lower your risk profile and secure the income side of your portfolio is bonds. At Citi we say bonds should be considered a strategic core of an investor’s portfolio and not an investment afterthought.

It’s generally known that bonds outperform when rates are falling and underperform when rates are rising. That’s certainly the case when you consider the typical Government type bond.

But bonds come in many shapes and sizes and can offer great depth and diversity. In particular selective high grade corporate bonds can deliver attractive income yields across the economic cycle. They can complement investor portfolios by lowering volatility and can be tailored to match investors differing time horizons and risk tolerances.

And they have some other advantages. Investment grade corporate bonds offer a lower correlation to equity markets. Citi’s Strategists have found a correlation of 44 per cent to global equity markets in Investment Grade corporate paper, and that’s an advantage when building a resilient portfolio.

There are a few key points to remember when building a bond portfolio.

The duration of the bond is important, particularly in a rising interest rate environment. The longer the duration the more the price of a bond will be affected by interest rate moves. However, investors can manage duration risk by seeking shorter duration exposures and a higher coupon rate, which gives increased capacity to absorb interest rate increases and maintain an acceptable yield.

The size of the global bond market ensures that investors have a wide choice when selecting bonds, so it is possible to combine high quality bonds with an attractive coupon.

And a good market to scour for opportunity is the flourishing Kangaroo bond market, which is available for Australian Dollar denominated bonds issued by offshore corporates and financials.

At the end of 2017 and in early 2018 bluechips such as Vodafone, Middle-Eastern regional leading banks backed by their government entities, and also the French global leading banks were actively issuing bonds that provided opportunity for investors to diversify their portfolios. It is a market that increasingly has greater depth and choice.

In making your choice it is also important to consider the income part of a bond’s total return (commonly called the “carry”). It is a key component when building a bond portfolio. Coupons are the guaranteed regular income that an investor will receive provided the issuer does not default. Sticking with high quality bonds will ensure you are not taking on additional risk.

The other valuable metric an investor should consider is the “yield to maturity”, which is the return the investor will receive if the bond is held to maturity. It takes into account the bond’s purchase price and all the future coupon payments. Evaluating yield to maturity makes it easier for an investor to compare the returns of different bonds, particularly as there is considerable variance in bond prices.

Investors can also combine investments in both fixed rate bonds and floating rate bonds. Combining floating rate notes with fixed rate notes is adding a hedge against rising rates while lowering the overall portfolio interest rate risk. Floating rate bonds typically shine more in a rising rate environment as the coupons they pay is linked to a benchmark rate that is reset periodically. As such the price of the bond is barely affected by a rise of interest rates and the duration risk is negligible, while the coupon received improves as the benchmark rate increases.

Bonds offer not just an opportunity to lock in income and lower the overall risk profile of your portfolio. As an asset class it also offer versatility in gaining a global exposure to key industries an investor is interested in as well as geographical diversification.

Elsa is a fixed interest specialist for Citi’s Wealth Management Business

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This document is distributed in Australia by Citigroup Pty Limited ABN 88 004 325 080, AFSL No. 238098, Australian credit licence 238098. Any advice is general advice only. It was prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation, or needs. Before acting on this advice you should consider if it's appropriate for your particular circumstances. You should also obtain and consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement and terms and conditions before you make a decision about any financial product, and consider if it’s suitable for your objectives, financial situation, or needs. Investors are advised to obtain independent legal, financial, and taxation advice prior to investing. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. Investment products are not available to US people and may not be available in all jurisdictions.