No Regrets: Avoiding an Ultrashort Hangover


Danan Kirby, CFA



How to leave the ultrashort party without regrets.

A short-term soiree
It’s been tons of fun at the ultrashort bond rate party. Investors entertained tactical game plans, sampled at the high yield table and played a clever hand betting on ultrashort duration. Satisfied, they plan to leave this Gatsby-esque scene having outplayed the market’s attempts to keep them longer than intended. But the allure of an ultrashort cocktail spiked with high yield is too strong to ignore, and instead of earning the satisfaction of time well-spent, investors who extend their ultrashort bet run the risk of waking to the undeniable odor of gin and regret.

The hottest place to be
With short term rates exceeding those of some longer-term bonds, and spreads incredibly tight, one of the hottest places to be for yield has been at the shortest end of the curve. Investors have looked to ultrashort funds as a good fit between money market options and longer-term rate strategies as a flattening yield curve leaves limited solutions for attractive yields.

But higher yield doesn’t come without higher risk, and ultrashort funds, while less susceptible to rate risk, can present credit risk when there is an attempt to boost yield. In their hopes to gulp income, investors may have lost sight of the fact that ultrashort funds still possess risks. They may have blanked on fixed income’s key role: to help with capital preservation through adding stability and diversification.

Know your limit
Too often, investors overestimate their ability to forecast the direction of interest rates.

In the chart below, take a look at six-month interest rate estimates by economists versus yield movements for the past five years. Not only were the consensus estimates wrong, but in most cases, they were very wrong. Investors who think they have the ultrashort party beat may just be reeling from their own optimism bias.


Six-Month Interest-Rate Forecast vs Actual Yield Movement for Indicated Periods

Once the lights come up on ultrashort returns against short-term bonds (see table below), the short-term category is the standout in all but one year—showing that, historically, ultrashort opportunities are often just, well, ultrashort. Is it worth the risk to an investor’s principal to linger?

Avoiding the hangover
Understanding that many investors use short-term or intermediate-term bond funds as a core fixed income allocation, perhaps the true “sweet spot” for stability lies in the three- to five-year duration range, just a bit farther out on the yield curve than ultrashort. Investors can take advantage of attractive short-term rates but with less interest rate risk than a traditional intermediate-term core bond fund.

But, don’t drink up just any 3- to 5-year bond fund. Seek a fund that is flexible in its approach to take advantage of opportunities across the asset class. A flexible approach can also ensure a portfolio is adequately diversified by sector, issuer, and credit cyclicality. Pairing flexibility with a time-tested structure, such as a laddered bond portfolio, can protect in a rising interest rate environment by spreading risk across maturities and reinvesting dollars when rates rise. Principal loss can be reduced while an income stream is established, serving the role of a fixed income allocation—without regrets.

Important Information
Before investing, carefully consider the Fund’s investment goals, risks, charges, and expenses. For a prospectus or summary prospectus containing this and other information, contact your financial advisor or visit Read them carefully before investing.

The performance data quoted represents past performance; it does not guarantee future results.

Investments carry risks, including possible loss of principal. Portfolios investing in bonds have the same interest rate, inflation, and credit risks that are associated with the underlying bonds. The value of bonds will fluctuate relative to changes in interest rates, decreasing when interest rates rise.

High yield bonds may offer higher yields in return for more risk exposure.

The laddering strategy does not assure or guarantee better performance than a non-laddered portfolio and cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses.

The views expressed are subject to change and do not necessarily reflect the views of Thornburg Investment Management, Inc. This information should not be relied upon as a recommendation or investment advice and is not intended to predict the performance of any investment or market.

Please see our glossary for a definition of terms.

Thornburg mutual funds are distributed by Thornburg Securities Corporation.

Thornburg Investment Management, Inc. mutual funds are sold through investment professionals including investment advisors, brokerage firms, bank trust departments, trust companies and certain other financial intermediaries. Thornburg Securities Corporation (TSC) does not act as broker of record for investors.