Bonds take center stage at midyear 2023

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Bonds take center stage at midyear 2023

Vanguard Perspective


July 26, 2023

Key takeaways

  • The Fed is still fighting sticky inflation, so interest rates—and bond yields—are likely to remain high.
  • After a decade of minimal returns, bonds are attractive again. While cash positions were an effective diversifier last year, keeping clients in cash for too long could cause them to miss out on locking in higher yields for the longer term.
  • 2022 was highly unusual. Bonds lost 10% in the first four months of the year, which is one of the worst returns in U.S. history.1 Over the long term, bonds are still a great diversifier of equity volatility.

Take advantage of higher bond yields

Opportunities in the fixed income market abound in the second half of 2023 as sticky inflation continues to drive higher bond yields. Vanguard Chief Economist Joe Davis predicts that we will continue to see modest progress on the inflation front, in part because central banks will need to keep interest rates in restrictive territory to bring inflation down to their preferred 2% target. We’ll see some economic weakness in the second half of 2023 along with those higher interest rates.

“The one silver lining in all this is that you have parts of the financial markets, in particular the bond market, increasingly pricing in this reality of higher interest rates,” Davis said, “not only for this year but for the years to come.”

Because we are most likely near the end of the Fed’s rate hiking cycle, we believe now is the time to add high-quality fixed income exposure. If a recession does arrive in the next quarter or two, we expect investment-grade bonds to hold up reasonably well and benefit from price appreciation once the Fed is able to cut rates.

Don’t get distracted by short-term thinking

Given the attractive yields money market funds offer now, you might be tempted to keep your clients in cash and wait for the “right” moment to get them back into the market, especially since fixed income markets and interest rates have continued to experience volatility in 2023. However, predicting the path of interest rates is notoriously hard to do. And in today’s environment, there’s less room for error now that yields have increased so much.

A generational reset in global bond yields

Line graph showing that interest rate percentages for U.S. Treasuries as of December 31, 2021, were much lower than interest rates as of June 30, 2023. Yields from 2021 were near zero for 1-month Treasuries, rising to about 2% for 30-year Treasuries. Yields from 2023 were above 5% for 1-month Treasuries, falling to about 4% for 30-year Treasuries.

Source: U.S. Treasury data as of July 13, 2023.

“While we don’t encourage investors to try to time markets, entry levels do matter,” said Daniel Shaykevich, Vanguard senior portfolio manager, manager emerging markets. “When you increase your allocation to longer-term bonds, you’re locking in the current level of yields for many years.”

Many investors and financial institutions that locked in low yields in 2020 or 2021 have suffered significant mark-to-market losses. However, the same dynamic can work in reverse. Getting your clients into the fixed income market at attractive levels can generate capital gains if yields come down from high levels.

“Looking beyond the safest government bonds to credit,” Shaykevich said, “I would argue that even riskier segments of the credit markets appear more attractive than, say, defensively oriented stocks, and offer lower volatility.”

Bonds still an effective diversifier

Clients may still be experiencing strong emotions about last year’s market performance, but it may help to remind them that 2022 was a highly unusual year; bonds lost 10% in the first four months of 2022, which is among the worst returns in U.S. history.¹ But, the anomaly that was 2022 sets us up for better returns looking forward. According to Vanguard Global Head of Fixed Income Sara Devereux:

  • Valuations are materially better than they’ve been. “We haven’t seen yields like this in a decade,” said Devereux.
  • Income is back in fixed income. The coupon component of bond returns is very stable, offering a real buffer to price volatility.
  • Diversification benefits are back. Last year was highly unusual, but in 2023, bonds are behaving more normally. Over the long term, bonds are a great diversifier of equity stress.
  • If the recession we are forecasting arrives before the end of this year, it pays to remember that bonds tend to outperform in a recession.

Sample the strength of our fixed income funds

Take advantage of this opportunity to leverage bonds and potentially improve investment returns for your clients.


1 Jason Zweig. It’s the Worst Bond Market Since 1842. That’s the Good News. Accessed July 19, 2023 at


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  • Bond funds are subject to the risk that an issuer will fail to make payments on time, and that bond prices will decline because of rising interest rates or negative perceptions of an issuer’s ability to make payments.

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