Aegon USA Investment Management LLC's Long U.S. Treasury STRIPS strategy topped Morningstar's list of top performers for the year ended March 31, posting a gross return of 47.68%.
"This is part of our government strategy, which is really trying to help benefit plans maximize some of those very long-duration liabilities but at the same time allowing them to free up some capital to allocate to other parts of the market. That has certainly proven to be beneficial over the last year or so as interest rates have fallen fairly dramatically," said Calvin Norris, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based U.S. rates strategist and portfolio manager for the strategy.
Mr. Norris said the portfolio closely tracks the Bloomberg Barclays 20+ STRIPS index but it is an active strategy. The portfolio has very low turnover, he said, as portfolio managers minimize trading expense within the fund. "Generally speaking, because of the high cost of trading STRIPS we tend not to make a lot of significant relative-value bets on a short-term basis. Most of our relative-value positioning within the portfolio tends to be more long term in nature. We tend to keep the duration and curve profile very similar to the benchmark, not taking active duration bets as frequently as we might in other, more liquid strategies," Mr. Norris said.
NISA Investment Advisors LLC's 15+ STRIPS fixed-income composite remained in second place on both the one- and five-year lists for the second consecutive quarter, with a gross one-year return of 45.63% and a gross annualized 9.48% return for the five years ended March 31.
"Many of our clients are defined benefit plans and they have chosen to utilize part of their assets to hedge the interest-rate sensitivity that is embedded in their liabilities. One way to do that is with an allocation to long-dated Treasuries, specifically STRIPS, so many of our clients have engaged us to buy long STRIPS on their behalf," said Joe Murphy, director, portfolio management at NISA Investment Advisors in St. Louis.
Mr. Murphy said falling interest rates have been the primary driver behind the strategy's returns for both the one- and five-year periods.
"If we look at long-term interest rates over that five-year period, they're sharply lower. From March of 2015 to March of 2020, long-term interest rates were approximately 120 basis points lower. Given the long-duration of the STRIPS allocation, with 120 basis points lower yield, you're going to have positive returns," he said.
The Federal Open Market Committee responded to economic concerns related to COVID-19 by lowering the target range for the federal funds rate to zero to 0.25% at an unscheduled meeting on March 15, from the 1% to 1.25% range it set March 3.
"The credit goes to our clients for choosing an allocation to STRIPS, which have performed exceptionally well as long-term interest rates have fallen," Mr. Murphy said.
Hoisington Investment Management Co.'s macroeconomic fixed-income composite was in third place on the one-year list, returning a gross 40.19% for the 12 months ended March 31.
Two strategies from Pacific Investment Management Co. LLC rounded out the top five for the year ended March 31. PIMCO's Long-Duration Treasury strategy was in fourth place with a gross 31.72%. PIMCO's Long Bond Extended Duration strategy returned 30.22%, which put it in fifth place for the year, while a gross annualized 8.57% return placed it fourth for the five-year period.
New York-based 16th Amendment Advisors LLC's Vicksburg strategy led the list of five-year returns with a gross annualized 28.2%.
"Vicksburg is a fixed-income strategy focused on high-grade municipal bonds. The fund buys taxable and tax-exempt municipal bonds without limitations on maturity or duration, state, coupon or structure," said John J. Lee, managing member, in an email. "The fund generally uses margin leverage and hedges interest-rate exposure. From time to time, the fund will buy corporate bonds. It favors bonds that are highly liquid or are deemed essential service."
Strategic Income Management LLC's SiM High Yield Institutional strategy was in third place for the five years ended March 31, with a 9.14% return. Camden Asset Management LP's Long Duration Government Credit composite completed the five-year list with a gross annualized 8.43% return.