In our view, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) can provide powerful tools for fixed income investors both big and small. Even some of the most sophisticated investment managers have used ETFs to gain broad-based exposure to certain subsets of the fixed income market. This is perhaps most applicable in high-yield and emerging market debt. ETFs allow investors a way to efficiently access a basket of bonds as opposed to attempting to buy or sell each security on its own. With this same approach in mind, WisdomTree has sought to bundle institutional-caliber strategies to mitigate interest rate risk in an easy-to-access ETF wrapper. As highlighted below, the mechanics of these approaches seek to address the risk of rising rates head on.
One common concern about traditional approaches to rising rates is that the portfolios’ underlying investment characteristics change in the name of trying to reduce risk. By altering the coupon type or shifting to the very front of the yield curve, investors must change their portfolio’s DNA. In our approach to rising rates, we have sought to maintain traditional bond exposures while modifying exposure to interest rate risk. In doing so, we sought to create portfolios that investors are familiar with and that provide them with the risk management tools they seek.
The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index is the most recognized fixed income index in the world, with over $4 trillion in assets benchmarked to it.1 In partnering with BofA Merrill Lynch, we were able to access a commonly followed investment strategy of high-yield bonds maturing within five years. However, in a rising rate environment, both investment-grade and high-yield bonds are likely to underperform. In response, we sought to create two different risk profiles for each strategy:
• Zero duration indexes, which seek to offset the interest rate exposure in the long bond portfolio
• Negative duration indexes, whereby the overlay strategy is constructed to target a duration below zero, creating an index that could potentially benefit from a rising rate environment
In both approaches, investors are given the flexibility to mitigate interest rate risk in the same way that they currently manage credit risk via ETFs. On the day the Federal Reserve (Fed) began tapering its asset purchase program, WisdomTree launched the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Zero Duration Fund (AGZD), the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Negative Duration Fund (AGND), the BofA Merrill Lynch High Yield Bond Zero Duration Fund (HYZD)and the BofA Merrill Lynch High Yield Bond Negative Duration Fund (HYND) to help investors maintain bond exposure while mitigating risk. As a result, the performance impact of the Fed’s shift in policy can be easily observed through the performance of these strategies.
Interest Rate Risk Is More Than a Number
While some investors seek to quantify interest rate risk via a single duration number, it is important to note that interest rates seldom move in parallel shifts across the yield curve. As illustrated below, traditional fixed income strategies have a large percentage of their exposure to securities at the short end of the yield curve. In the case of the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index, over 80% of the portfolio falls within the 0–5-year duration bucket.2
Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index
In constructing our rising rate strategies, we first identify the sensitivities of the long portfolio to interest rate risk. As part of this process, the sensitivities are quantified. Then a mirror image of interest rate exposures is constructed within the hedge to help immunize the bond positions from fluctuations in rates.