Source: Morningstar, Inc.
It seems like bonds are defying gravity at this point. Entering last year at near record lows for yields, fixed income, as measured by the widely recognized BarCap Aggregate Bond Index, returned 7.8% vs. virtually flat returns for large-cap stocks as measured by the S&P 500. As bond returns continued to levitate, yields deflated to new record levels. US debt was downgraded mid-year, but markets asserted a strong vote of confidence with double-digit returns for long treasury bonds.
Where to next? Past returns are not a predictor of future performance – that’s what we’re told to say by our compliance officers and in my mind, this disclaimer could not be more apropos. With interest rates telegraphed to remain low, the Fed may delay dreaded rising rates, but the ability to replicate the returns of 2011 will be a major surprise. Diversification away from a traditional mix of government bonds may help, depending on your situation.