Investment  grade  credit  markets  have  continued  to  enjoy  strong  performance  in  2019,  although  spreads showed little movement during the third quarter. The Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate Index  closed  the  quarter  at  an  option  adjusted  spread  of  115,  which  is  exactly  where  it  opened.   Coupon income and lower Treasury yields were the driving forces of positive returns during the quarter  as  the  10yr  Treasury  finished  the  quarter  at  1.66%  after  having  opened  at  2.01%.   While  Treasuries finished lower, the path was not linear and there was volatility along the way: the 10yr closed at a low of 1.45% on September 3, before rocketing higher to close at 1.89% on September 13,  a  massive  move  of  44  basis  points  over  the course of just eight trading days. Corporate  bond  returns  are  off  to  the  best  start through the first three quarters of any calendar  year  dating  back  to  2009  when  the  US Corporate Index posted a total return of +17.11%. Through the first 9 months of 2019 the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate Index had a total return of +13.20%. This compares to CAM’s gross total return of +11.69% for the Investment Grade Strategy.

The Primary Market is Back, Bigly

Lower Treasuries, retail fund flows and foreign buyers who were faced with increasingly negative yields  in  many  local  markets  combined  to  lead  a  resurgence  in  the  primary  market  during  the  quarter.

September was one for the record books as companies issued $158bln in debt, making it the 3rd largest volume month in the history of the corporate bond market. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, issuance through the end of the third quarter stood at $923.6bln, trailing 2018’s pace by 3.9%.

Portfolio Positioning

While we at CAM are pleased with the year‐to‐date performance of our investment grade strategy, we  would  like  to  remind  our  investors  that  this  performance  has  occurred  over  a  very  short  timeframe. We strategically position our clients’ portfolios with a longer term focus and an emphasis on providing a superior risk‐adjusted return over a full market cycle. Amid such a strong start  to  the  year  for  credit,  we  would  like  to  illustrate  to  our  investors  how  we  are  positioning  portfolios for the longer term. While we do not seek to replicate or manage to an index, we do use the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate Index as a benchmark for the performance of our strategy so this discussion will refer to that index as a tool to compare our relative positioning.

Credit Quality

CAM  targets  a  30%  limitation  for  BBB  exposure,  the  riskiest  portion  of  the  investment  grade  universe. There is an additional target of maintaining an overall portfolio credit quality rating of at least A3/A‐. The US Corporate Index was 50.39% BBB‐rated at the end of the third quarter with an average rating of A3/Baa1. While this high‐quality bias can cause CAM’s portfolio to underperform during periods of excessive risk taking, it should tend to outperform during periods of market stress. One of the tenets of our strategy is preservation of capital and our BBB‐underweight is helpful in achieving this goal for our investors.

Interest Rate Sensitivity

CAM avoids the fool’s errand of attempting to make tactical bets on the direction of interest rates. Instead we manage interest rate risk by positioning the portfolio in intermediate bonds that range in maturity from 5‐10 years. CAM will occasionally hold a security that is shorter than 5 years or longer  than  10,  but  very  rarely  does  so.   By  always  investing  in  intermediate  maturities,  CAM’s  seasoned portfolio is more conservatively positioned than the corporate index with a shorter duration and fewer average years to maturity.


Liquidity is always on our minds at CAM. Maintaining an intermediate maturity profile requires that we sell bonds prior to maturity so we must be sure that we will be able to effectively exit positions. CAM  targets  SEC‐registered  securities  that  have $300  million  minimum  par  amount  outstanding.

Additionally CAM attempts to cap its ownership exposure to 5% of any particular issue. By investing in larger more liquid issues and by limiting exposure to any particular issue it makes it easier to achieve best  execution  when  it  comes  time  to  sell.   CAM’s  US Corporate average ownership exposure per issue held at the $869 million end of the third quarter was 0.7%.

Diversification & Industry Sector Limitations
CAM diversifies client accounts by populating individual separately managed accounts with 20‐25 positions.   Additionally  CAM  imposes  a  20%  exposure  limitation  at  the  “sector”  level  and  a  15%  limitation at the “industry” level. As an example, “Capital Goods” is at the sector level and beneath that  sector  there  are  individual  buckets  at  the  industry  level,  such  as  Building  Materials.

CAM invests in bonds that we believe will add value to the performance of the portfolio. Because CAM does not manage to, or attempt to, replicate an index it does not encounter the problem of over‐diversification or of owning the bonds of an issuer simply because the issuer represents a large weighting within an index.

The Fed Strikes Again, Now What?
The FOMC lowered its target for the Federal Funds Rate twice during the quarter, once at its July meeting and then again in September. The current implied probability of a cut at its meeting at the end of October is around 60% but closer to 75% for the December meeting, as market participants’ views remain mixed on the possibility of further cuts in 2019. We believe that the Fed will abide by its commitment to data dependency. Economic data showing strength or resiliency will result in no further cuts in 2019, but data showing a deteriorating economic picture could mean that more cuts are on the horizon.

In  our  view,  the  biggest  factor  for  the  performance  of  risk  markets  through  year  end  hinges  on  trade. We believe that the markets are pricing in a China trade resolution over the medium term. If this does not come to fruition or if the U.S. and China become more antagonistic then a negative market reaction becomes more likely. Aside from being positioned more conservatively than the market  as  a  whole,  with  considerably  less  BBB  exposure  and  a  markedly  shorter  duration,  we  believe that we are furthermore better positioned regarding general economic sensitivity as well as, more specifically, Chinese trade exposure.

While the investment grade credit market has performed well, caution still rules the day. We will continue  to  position  portfolios  accordingly  with  an  eye  toward  the  longer  term.  Thank  you  for  entrusting us with the responsibility of helping you to achieve your financial goals.

This information is intended solely to report on investment strategies identified by Cincinnati Asset Management. Opinions and estimates offered constitute our judgment and are subject to change without  notice,  as  are  statements  of  financial  market  trends,  which  are  based  on  current  market  conditions. This material is not intended as an offer or solicitation to buy, hold or sell any financial instrument. Fixed income securities may be sensitive to prevailing interest rates. When rates rise the  value  generally  declines.   Past  performance  is  not  a  guarantee  of  future  results.   Gross  of  advisory fee performance does not reflect the deduction of investment advisory fees. Our advisory fees  are  disclosed  in  Form  ADV  Part  2A.   Accounts  managed  through  brokerage  firm  programs  usually will include additional fees. Returns are calculated monthly in U.S. dollars and include reinvestment of dividends and interest. The index is unmanaged and does not take into account fees, expenses, and transaction costs. It is shown for comparative purposes and is based on information generally available to the public from sources believed to be reliable. No representation is made to its accuracy or completeness.