【英语财经】如何在超低收益环境中投资 How to Invest in a Low-Yield World

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2014-5-23 11:52

小艾摘要: In a year of many surprises for investors, one of the biggest has been that interest rates have actually fallen throughout most of the developed world. In the United States, the benchmark 10-year U.S. ...
How to Invest in a Low-Yield World
In a year of many surprises for investors, one of the biggest has been that interest rates have actually fallen throughout most of the developed world. In the United States, the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has dropped from more than 3% in late December to a multi-month low of 2.6% in early March and is now around 2.7%.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. We're five years into the recovery, economic growth, although still slow, is improving, and most importantly, the Federal Reserve is tapering its quantitative easing program. These should have combined to push interest rates up.

This has all left investors wondering: why are rates still low, when will they rise and by how much, and how do I invest in this environment? Let's look at all three questions.

Why are rates still low? At least three factors have kept rates low this year. First, economic growth was much slower in the first quarter than people expected back in the fall. Of course, a lot of the apparent slowdown was the result of the unusually cold winter, which affected economic activity across a host of sectors. Inflation, too, has remained low, which mitigated any pressure on the Fed to raise rates.

But a second and perhaps more surprising factor has been the buying of bonds by pension plans. With the strong equity returns of the last 18 months or so, many of these plans, particularly corporate plans, have found themselves in a better position with respect to how funded they are to meet their obligations. As a result, they are in a position to 'de-risk,' and insulate their liability stream by buying top-rated, long-duration bonds. As such, they have sold down some of their equity holdings while buying more bonds.

Finally, and this too is probably underappreciated, there is a lack of supply of high quality bonds. Large segments of the economy have been reducing their debt (deleveraging) or at least borrowing at a slower rate. In addition, there has been improvement in the U.S. fiscal position, resulting in fewer bonds for sale.

There are longer-term factors at play, as well, including demographics. An aging population borrows less and buys more bonds, keeping rates lower than in a younger population. But in short, relatively slow growth, low inflation, more demand for bonds by institutions, with less supply all equate to lower interest rates.

When will rates rise--and by how much? Although rates have remained low this year, they are still likely to rise through the rest of the year and into next year. However, there are a couple of caveats to note: the rise will differ depending on the length of the bond (or the different 'parts of the curve,' as bond investors like to call it), and the rise will not be as much as many investors are expecting.

Short-term rates, which are controlled by the Federal Reserve, are likely to remain anchored at zero throughout the year. However, for longer-term rates, given all the factors discussed above, the rise is also going to be slower than many would expect or perhaps hope for. Practically, that means I think we end the year with a 10-year Treasury yield between 3 and 3.25.

How do I invest in this environment? Of course, this is the most important--and most difficult--question to answer. Consider where we are: Yields are likely to rise as the Fed withdraws monetary accommodation and eventually lifts short-term rates. This poses a risk for most fixed-rate instruments, particularly given the fact that the duration or rate sensitivity of a typical bond index is much higher than it was 20 years ago. At the same time, it may take years for rates to fully normalize, leaving investors still stretching to meet their income targets. Finally, after more than five years of this environment of yield paucity, there are few cheap options left.

So what to do? There is certainly no such thing as a free lunch these days when it comes to investing, but here are two themes to consider.

First is to move beyond traditional bond market proxies, which offer little yield and significant duration or rate risk thanks to low coupons. Instead consider flexible fixed income mandates that provide the advantage of looking for segments of the fixed income space with some relative value (such as emerging market hard currency bonds).

Second is to reallocate a portion of one's income-oriented portfolio away from bonds and into stocks. While equities are no longer cheap, particularly in the United States, a comparison of earnings and bond yields suggests that, at least on a relative basis, equities are still the better bargain. In addition, non-U.S. markets are generally cheaper and offer more income. On a yield basis, the S&P 500 is currently yielding slightly below 2%. At the same time, the ACWI ex U.S. is yielding a bit more than 3%, nearly a 60% premium.

Overall, investors should accept that we may be stuck in a low yield environment for some time. Yes, the first quarter was a bit of a surprise and interest rates will likely rise over the rest of the year. But even at 3% or 3.25%, the 10-year yield would be well below its 20-year average (and only about half of the 60-year average). For those looking to buy a home and need a mortgage that's probably good news. Income-oriented investors, however, will need to consider strategies that allow for the premise that yield may continue to be hard to obtain. And those who hope that interest rates will once again provide investors with a risk-free 5% yield are likely to be disappointed for some time to come.

这一年给投资者带来不少意外,其中最让人大跌眼镜的就是:利率实际上在大多数发达国家已经下滑。在美国,基准10年期美国国债收益率已经从去年12月底的高于3%降至3月初的数月低位2.6%,现在10年期美国国债收益率正在2.7%上下徘徊。

事情本不应该是这样的。我们的经济复苏已经进入了第五个年头,经济增速虽然依然较低,但一直在上升,最重要的是,美联储(Federal Reserve)正在逐渐收紧量化宽松的货币政策。上述因素本应该起到推高利率的作用。

这令投资者不禁纳闷:为什么利率仍然如此之低?利率何时会升高,升幅将会是多少?我如何在这样的环境中进行投资?让我们分别来看看这三个问题。

为什么利率仍然如此之低?今年,导致利率持续走低的至少有三个因素。首先,第一季度的经济增速远低于人们去年秋季的预期。当然,很多明显的经济放缓表现是由极寒的天气因素导致的,天气因素对很多领域的经济活动都产生了影响。通货膨胀率也一直维持在较低的水平,这缓解了美联储上调利率的压力。

但是,第二个因素——同时也可能是更让人意外的因素——则是养老基金的债券买盘。鉴于过去18个月左右股票市场回报丰厚,很多养老基金——特别是那些公司养老基金——发现自己的资金更充裕了,能够更好地履行自己的职责了。因此,他们获得了“降低风险”并通过购买高评级长期债券剥离不良资产的机会。所以,养老基金卖出了部分股票资产,并买进了更多债券。

最后一个因素或许也被忽视了,那就是高品质债券供应不足的问题。经济中很大一部分一直在降低债务(去杠杆化)或至少减缓借款的步伐。此外,美国的财政状况已经有所改善,这减少了可售美国国债的规模。
与此同时,包括人口统计学等更为长期的因素也对利率走低产生了一定的影响。由于老年人口借贷更少但购买的债券更多,相较于年轻化的人口,他们会推低利率。总而言之,相对缓慢的增长、低通胀、机构对债券购买的需求加上债券供应的减少都是令利率走低的原因。

利率何时会升高,升幅将会是多少?尽管今年以来利率一直低迷,但是利率仍有可能在今年余下的时间里甚至明年内走高。然而,仍有两点需要注意:利率的升幅将依据债券的期限(或按照债市投资者所称的不同的“孳息率”)而有所不同,并且利率的升幅可能将达不到很多投资者的预期。

由美联储管理的短期债券利率可能在今年年内被维持在接近于零的水平。然而,鉴于上述原因,长期债券的利率升幅也将低于很多人预期或者希望的水平。实际上,我认为今年年底10年期美国国债的收益率将在3%至3.25%之间。

我如何在这样的环境中进行投资?当然,这是最重要,也是最难回答的问题。考虑一下我们现在的状况吧:随着美联储终结宽松的货币政策并最终上调短期利率,债券收益率很可能将走高。这将给大多数固定利率工具带来风险,特别是在目前的情况下:即债券指数的久期及利率敏感性较20年前已经大大增加了。与此同时,利率完全正常化可能要花费数年之久,这令投资者仍需苦苦等待才能达到他们的收入预期。最后,在这种低收益环境延续了五年以上之后,廉价的投资选择早已所剩无几。

那么解决方案是什么呢?如今在投资界肯定没有免费午餐这等好事,但是有两大投资主题是可以考虑的。
首先,你要跳出传统的债券市场,因为受低票息债券的影响,传统的债券市场面临着收益率低、久期及利率敏感性却大增的情况。你应该考虑灵活的固定收益债券产品,这种产品的优势是可以兼顾固定收益和相关的价值因素(比如新兴市场的硬通货债券)。

第二,你应该将自己收益导向型投资组合的一部分从债市转移到股市之中。尽管股票价格已不如以前便宜,特别是在美国,但是据股票收益与债券收益的比较显示,至少相对而言,股票的投资成本更低。此外,非美市场普遍价格较低,而收益更高。从收益率上看,标准普尔500指数(S&P 500)目前的回报略低于2%。与此同时,美国以外国家指数基金(ACWI ex U.S.)的回报率略高于3%,较前者高出了60%。

整体来讲,投资者应该接受我们可能还要在一段时间内忍受低收益率环境的这个事实。是的,第一季度给我们带来了些许意外,利率可能将在今年余下的时间内走高。但是即使利率升至3% 或3.25%的水平,10年期美国国债的收益率也远低于20年以来的平均水平(并且只有60年以来平均水平的一半左右)。对于那些想要购买房产并需要贷款的人来讲,这可能是个好消息。然而,在收益率可能越来越低的预期下,收益导向型的投资者就需要寻求对策了。对于那些希望利率会再次给投资者带来毫无风险的5%的回报的投资者,他们可能免不了要失望一阵子了。

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