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Capture More Upside and Less Downside with Convertibles 

Justin Kass 

5 Questions with Justin Kass 

 

Justin Kass, portfolio manager of the three-time Lipper Award-winning AllianzGI Convertible Fund, discusses the benefits of convertibles, where they fit in portfolios and the current market environment for the asset class.
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1
Convertible securities are hybrids that have stock-like and bond-like qualities. Where do they belong in portfolios?

Most investors use convertibles as a proxy for common stocks. By definition, they are corporate bonds that can be “converted” into a company’s stock, which means they can take on characteristics of stocks or bonds. Converts tend to appreciate like a stock when stock prices are rising and protect like a bond when stocks are falling. Since 1988, they've captured 80% of the upside return of the S&P 500 Index and only 66% of the downside volatility (see chart). That shows the “asymmetric” risk/reward profile of convertibles: upside participation with downside protection.

Despite having a higher correlation to equities, some investors use convertibles to diversify their core-bond allocations, in large part because these securities are less sensitive to rising interest rates. Others use converts in their “opportunistic” allocations because of the asymmetric risk/reward profile they provide.

Solid Performance in Up and Down Markets

Convertibles have historically participated in a significant portion of the upside potential of stocks while limiting exposure to downside volatility.

Convertibles

Source: BofA Merrill Lynch; Factset. Data from 1/1988–3/2013 (quarterly). Chart shows performance of BofA ML All Convertibles All Qualities Index versus that of the S&P 500. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
2
Some market watchers are predicting higher interest rates in the next few years. How will convertibles behave?

History shows that in rising interest-rate environments, convertible bonds tend to outperform Treasuries and core bonds. Unlike any other investment, Treasuries have US government-guaranteed interest and principal repayments—but Treasuries are also very rate-sensitive. Because rates generally rise when business and economic conditions are robust, and because convertibles are stock-like when stock prices rise, both stocks and converts tend to perform well in rising-rate environments. During the four periods of rising rates since 1988, they outperformed high-quality bonds by an average of 6.61 percentage points—and outperformed Treasuries by an average of 8.04 percentage points.

A Cushion Against Rising Rates

Over four rising-rate periods, convertibles outperformed core bonds and Treasuries by an average of 6.61 and 8.04 percentage points, respectively.

  Rising-Rate Cycle 1: 3/29/88 to 2/24/89 Rising-Rate Cycle 2: 2/4/94 to 2/1/95 Rising-Rate Cycle 3: 6/30/99 to 5/16/00 Rising-Rate Cycle 4: 6/30/04 to 6/29/06
Total Rate Hike 3.25% 3.00% 1.75% 4.25%
Core Bonds 3.41% -2.04% 2.02% 2.99%
10-Year Treasuries 2.82% -6.07% 1.64% 2.29%
Convertibles 11.09% -8.49% 25.43% 4.80%

Source: Morningstar Direct. Core bonds are represented by the Barclays US Aggregate Index and convertibles by the BofA Merrill Lynch All Convertibles All Qualities Index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
3
New issuance of convertibles was off last year. Is this year’s level any different and why does it matter to investors?

The amount of new issuance—the total amount of new convertible bonds for sale in the marketplace—turned around in 2013. Compare the $21 billion in new issuance during the full year of 2012 with the $12 billion from just the first three months of 2013. This is clearly a positive trend that speaks to an increasing demand for and supply of convertible debt, which is good news for investors. We’re also seeing a shift in how companies are using the proceeds from this new issuance. From 2010 through 2012, new issuance was primarily used to refinance outstanding debt. But from late 2012 through early 2013, most new issuance has centered on raising money for growth—including financing for mergers, acquisitions and capital expenditures to help companies grow. We believe this speaks to today’s more robust economic climate, which is yet another good sign for convertibles.
4
With so many issuers not rated by a major credit rating agency, how do you judge credit quality?

According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, around 35% of the convertible market is currently not rated. A majority of these companies are first-time corporate-debt issuers that don’t want to pay a major rating agency to formally rate their bonds. But as part of our investment process, we calculate our own objective, internal credit ratings for convertible securities in our investment universe—whether or not they’re rated by third parties. For rated issues, this step enables us to compare the agencies’ published ratings with our own and identify a potential upgrade candidate. For unrated issues, it helps us evaluate what the debt should be rated. Credit research and credit modeling are essential to our investment process.
5
Given the current market environment, why does it make sense to invest in convertibles?

We remain constructive on the convertible market. Earnings for the fourth quarter of 2012 generally met or exceeded expectations, and issuers’ 2013 earnings outlooks were positive. Corporate balance sheets remain strong, with leverage ratios and interest-coverage ratios consistent with—or better than—the average levels we’ve seen over the past 20 years. In addition, corporate balance-sheet cash levels remain high, and we expect companies to use both that cash and future free cash flow to boost shareholder value via share buybacks, dividends, and merger and acquisition activity. These factors should benefit equity and convertible investors. Overall, the positive asymmetric risk/reward profile of converts is very favorable, especially during periods of high volatility. We believe a strategic allocation to convertibles makes sense for investors who are looking to participate in the upside of the equity markets while protecting on the downside, and for investors concerned about rising rates.
Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of any mutual fund carefully before investing. This and other information is contained in the fund’s prospectus and summary prospectus, which may be obtained by contacting your financial advisor. Click here for a complete list of the Allianz Funds prospectuses and summary prospectuses. Please read them carefully before you invest.


A Word About Risk: Convertible securities involve the added risk that securities must be converted before it is optimal. Below investment grade convertible and fixed-income securities involve a greater risk to principal than investment grade securities. Bond prices will normally decline as interest rates rise. Investments in smaller companies may be more volatile and less liquid than investments in larger companies. Derivative prices depend on the performance of an underlying asset; derivatives carry market, credit and liquidity risk. US government bonds and Treasury bills are guaranteed by the US government and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value.

The material contains the current opinions of the author, which are subject to change without notice. Statements concerning financial market trends are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. References to specific securities and issuers are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to be, and should not be interpreted as, recommendations to purchase or sell such securities. Forecasts and estimates have certain inherent limitations, and are not intended to be relied upon as advice or interpreted as a recommendation.

The BofA Merrill Lynch All Convertibles All Qualities Index is a widely used, unmanaged index that measures the performance of US dollar-denominated convertible securities not currently in bankruptcy with a total market value greater than $50 million at issuance. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Index (S&P 500) is an unmanaged index that is generally representative of the US stock market. Unless otherwise noted, index returns reflect the reinvestment of income dividends and capital gains, if any, but do not reflect fees, brokerage commissions or other expenses of investing. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Source for Lipper information: Lipper Inc. Lipper is a wholly owned subsidiary of Reuters. Their awards are based on strong relative performance, which may not necessarily mean positive returns for investors. Calculation periods extend over 36, 60 and 120 months. The highest Lipper Leader for consistent return (effective return) within each eligible classification determines the fund classification winner over 3, 5 or 10 years.

Allianz Global Investors Distributors LLC, 1633 Broadway, New York NY, 10019-7585, us.allianzgi.com, 1-800-926-4456.

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