Published by Bank Business

Additional stimulus payments, traditional seasonal liquidity trends, lower loan demand and the low-rate environment could challenge financial institutions even further to deploy excess cash effectively in 2021. Fixed income investment managers are facing tighter asset spreads, making “excess” returns potentially elusive in 2021 as prepayment models struggle to estimate mortgage prepayments and reinvestment needs from new money and portfolio principal reductions continue to be high. We believe now is the time to ensure your depository has a disciplined investment approach that will help you manage risk and generate returns by putting those funds to work and potentially enhancing bottom-line performance. If you do not have them in place already, now is the time to establish guidelines and utilize time-tested best practices to ensure that your portfolio is ready.

While all investment decisions will impact a portfolio’s future returns, the decision-making framework in which they are made is generally more important than the individual decisions themselves. This article will outline the fixed-income investment process (the decision-making framework), discuss analytical models and why we need them, and conclude with a snapshot and comments on today’s fixed-income landscape.

The Investment Process – A Framework for Sound Portfolio Decision-Making

Institutional fixed-income portfolio management is best thought of as a “rinse and repeat” process, in which portfolio riskiness is increased when compensation for risk is high and vice-versa.  For example, if yield spreads and expected returns on corporate bonds or mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are low, portfolio weights and exposure to these assets would also be low.  As spreads widen relative to U.S. Treasuries or interest rate swap rates, exposure is increased.  A data and research-oriented framework, combined with sound trading level analytical models, arm today’s successful fixed-income managers to address portfolio management in a very controlled manner.  Individual security selection can be thought of as the raw materials for portfolio returns.  And as a best practice, consider relative value analysis using robust trading level analysis in an option and credit-adjusted framework.

Exhibit 1 displays a portfolio management “feedback loop” that starts with understanding investor goals and establishing

guidelines or policies to express these goals.  From here, top-down market themes lead the way through our investment process. Security selection, risk budgeting and measurement and hedging, if permitted, bring us to the finish, with ex-post performance evaluation. Actively managed fixed-income portfolios are always at some stage of this feedback loop. For example, we might see monthly top-down themes, combined with daily security selection, weekly risk analysis and monthly performance reporting. Duration targeting and interest rate risk management take the guesswork off the table. Notice there is no discussion here on the direction of rates or when the Fed is going to move. Interest rate forecasts, rate bets, and trades that are explicitly positioned for a specific interest rate change have no place in this process and often can cause portfolio managers to rue the day. Instead, portfolio performance comes from good, old-fashioned risk measurement and management, as well as sector and security selection.

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