BBH Core Plus Fixed Income Quarterly Update – Q1 2024

Portfolio Managers, Andrew Hofer, Neil Hohmann, Paul Kunz, and Thomas Brennan, provide an analysis of the investment environment and most recent quarter-end results of the BBH Core Plus Fixed Income strategy.

1Q Highlights

  • The Strategy outperformed the Index during the quarter as sector and rating emphases contributed to relative results. Security selection had a muted impact on results, but results were mixed within sectors and subsectors. While narrowing risk spreads caused valuations of Index credits to weaken during the quarter, an abundance of opportunities in select subsectors of the market remain.
  • Index credits have weak valuations, but an abundance of opportunities in select subsectors of the market remain.
  • We identified new opportunities within select sectors and industries for the Strategy despite waning opportunities in the credit markets.
As of March 31, 2024


Total Returns

Average Annual Total Returns


3 Mo.


1 Yr.

3 Yr.

5 Yr.

10 Yr.

Since Inception

BBH Core Plus Fixed Income Composite (Gross of Fees)








BBH Core Plus Fixed Income Composite (Net of Fees)








Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index








Past performance is no guarantee of future results
Strategy Inception: 01/01/1986
Returns of less than one year are not annualized
The Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index is comprised of U.S. dollar-denominated investment grade fixed income securities with maturities of at least one year. The index includes corporate, government, and mortgage-backed securities. One cannot invest directly in an index.
Sources: Bloomberg and BBH & Co.

Market Environment

Treasury rates continued to be volatile as strong economic data and stub¬bornly high inflation data drove market sentiment back towards a “higher for longer in 2024” disposition, although the yield curve still had three 25 basis point.1 Federal Reserve (Fed) interest rate cuts priced in by the end of this year. Shorter-duration fixed income indexes generated positive returns during the first quarter while longer-duration indexes experienced negative total returns. Excess returns to credit were positive across sectors, with agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) being the notable exception that underperformed comparable duration Treasuries as the Fed continued shrinking its balance sheet.

Economic data has remained strong as inflationary pressures persist and there are few signs of recession on the horizon. Headline consumer inflation prints have been stronger than anticipated, and wage growth remains higher than historic averages. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index remains above its recession indicator threshold. Default rates of below investment-grade companies also remain subdued despite higher interest rates. The U.S. consumer appears to be on solid footing, with loan delinquency rates generally rising off very low bases and not indicating widespread issues. Although auto loan delinquency rates have risen to their highest levels since 2009, and defaults for subprime auto loans have increased above their pre-COVID-19 levels, these data points are within expected ranges for losses in asset-backed securities (ABS) and do not currently pose risk of impairment to bondholders. Delinquency rates on business loans held at U.S. commercial banks remain near cyclical lows. Commercial real estate loan delinquency rates at U.S. banks continue to creep higher, which parallels the rising delinquency rates being experienced in commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) related to office properties.

Exhibit I: Fixed income index returns for various indexes as of March 31, 2024, displaying duration, total return, and excess return.


Credit spreads narrowed across sectors and qualities despite the deluge of issuance during the quarter. This highlights both the intense demand for credit and the increasing complacency of investors evaluating new issues. The average option-adjusted spread (OAS) of the Bloomberg U.S. Corporate Index was 90 basis points at the end of the period, which was the lowest level since December 2021. When the Index’s spread is less than 100 basis points, the Index tends to underperform Treasury alternatives moving forward.

As a result of the tighter credit spread environment, we are finding fewer opportunities in traditional segments of the credit markets. According to our Valuation Framework,2 the percentage of investment-grade corporate bonds that screened as a “Buy” decreased to 13% versus 23% at the start of the quarter and 47% at the end of the first quarter last year, with the prospects for longer-duration bonds looking particularly unattractive. The percentage of high-yield corporate bonds that screened as a “Buy” in our Valuation Framework declined to 16% from 24% at the start of the quarter and 47% at the end of the first quarter last year, with “Buy” candidates having become sparse in the double-B benchmark. No cohort of 30-year or 15-year agency MBS met our Valuation Framework criteria for new purchases at quarter-end.

Exhibit II: Market outlook by sector as of March 31, 2024, broken-down by reserves, structured credit, corporate credit, and other credit categories.

However, there does remain opportunities in select subsectors of the market. Senior bank loans continue to screen attractively, with 87% of the universe screening as a “Buy” candidate. We continue to find opportunities in investment-grade bonds issued by life insurers and banks. Several “BB” and “B” rated bonds issued by specialty financial companies, banks, and real estate investment trusts (REITs) screen attractively in the high yield bond universe. In the structured credit markets, opportunities remain despite the recent narrowing of credit spreads, with spreads in some select sectors remaining disconnected from their underlying credit risk. Opportunities are also arising in the CMBS market as investors differentiate between office properties and other property types with solid credit dynamics. We continue to avoid non-agency residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) due to poor technical factors, and weak fundamentals, underpinned by poor housing affordability, low inventory of homes for sale, and stable-to-declining home prices.


The portfolio’s sector and rating emphases contributed to relative results during the quarter. The portfolio was overweight to several strong-performing segments of the credit markets, including ABS, CMBS, senior bank loans, investment-grade corporate bonds, and high yield corporate bonds. The portfolio’s continued avoidance of agency MBS also had a small-but-positive contribution to relative returns.

Security selection had a muted impact on results, but results were mixed within sectors and subsectors. There were strong selection results within holdings of investment-grade corporate bonds, particularly among bonds issued by property and casualty (P&C) insurers, life insurers, banks, specialty finance companies, and healthcare companies. Positions in aircraft equipment ABS were another notable contributor during the quarter. Selection results of CMBS, senior bank loans, and high yield corporate bonds were negative. Holdings of agency CMBS and Single-Asset, Single-Borrower (SASB) CMBS hindered results despite the portfolio’s lack of exposure to office properties. Positions in high yield corporate bonds issued by technology companies and collateralized loan obligation’s (CLOs) also hindered results.

The portfolio’s duration and yield curve profile contributed to results during the quarter. Agency MBS was not owned in the portfolio but carries a signifi¬cant weight in the Index. Agency MBS has negative convexity, and its duration can change day-to-day with changes in interest rates and interest rate volatility. We manage the portfolio’s duration to replicate the Index’s duration as transactions occur – not to changes in the Index’s day-to-day duration swings – and this contributed as the portfolio’s duration did not increase while the MBS Index’s duration did during an episode of rising interest rates.

Exhibit III: Attribution as of March 31, 2024, showing average portfolio weight and gross contribution displayed in basis points.

Representative Account Performance (Net of Fees)





Fourth Quarter




1 Year




5 Year




Since Inception




Past performance is no guarantee of future results

Representative Account Inception Date: 12/03/2002

Transaction Summary

We continued to find durable credits3 offering attractive value despite dwindling attractiveness of valuations of credits in Indexes. The purchases were made across a variety of sectors and industries. Descriptions of a few notable portfolio additions are included below.

Longtime holding SiriusPoint Ltd is a reinsurance company with a strong and stable European business and a strong capital structure that includes sub¬ordinated bonds, safety reserves, and a large equity cushion. We purchased their new issue, 5-year, BBB- rated bonds at a spread of 288 basis points over Treasuries for a yield of 7.1%. Owl Rock’s Blue Rock Technology Finance Corp II is a business development company (BDC) that came to market during the quarter, and the we found it appealing due to the company’s pristine lending history, strong management, and conservative leverage profile. We purchased their new issue, 5-year, BBB rated bonds at a spread of 283 basis points over Treasuries for a yield of 7.0%. Another BDC, venture debt lender Trinity Capital, issued during the quarter, and the company boasts strong management, exceptional credit performance history, and the conservative leverage profile common among BDCs. We purchased their 5-year, BBB- rated preferreds at a spread of 365 basis points over Treasuries for a yield of 7.9%. KKR’s wholly-owned life insurance subsidiary Global Atlantic brought a new issuance during the quarter. Global Atlantic’s strengths include a strong balance sheet, prudent asset-liability matching, and demonstrated capital support from KKR. We purchased the 5-year, A rated bonds at a spread of 175 basis points over Treasuries for a yield of 5.6%. And Apollo’s wholly-owned life insurance subsidiary Athene issued during the quarter as well, with its credit strengths including its very low leverage, its high risk-based capital ratio, and its exceptional liquidity condition. We purchased the new-issue, 5-year, A+ rated bonds at a spread of 160 basis points over Treasuries for a yield of 5.6%.

DRSLF 2024-115A is a CLO issued by Dryden Senior Loan Fund and managed by PGIM, Inc., the investment manager wholly owned by Prudential Financial. PGIM is a best-in-class CLO manager with consistent long-term performance and strong alignment of interest. We purchased the new-issue, 8.9 year weighted average life, AA rated bonds at a spread of 200 basis points over SOFR for a yield of 7.3%.

In the high yield market, leading global mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat came to market during the quarter with a term loan. The company pos¬sesses significant asset value in its unique network for its satellite constellation and large installed base on ships and airplanes, and its equipment is critical infrastructure installed in most oceanic ships and commercial airline cockpits. We purchased the BB+ rated senior bank loans at a spread of 350 basis points over Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR)4 for a yield of 8.8%. We also participated in the refinancing of United Airline’s senior bank loan secured by the company’s landing and take-off slots, routes, and gates. The BB+ term loan was purchased at a spread of 284 basis points over SOFR for a yield of 8.2%. We added to our position in senior bank loans of MultiPlan, the largest network provider of out-of-network claim services with a long operating history, a track record of consistent cash flow generation and deleveraging, and a sticky and hard-to-replicate service offering. We purchased the B+ rated term loans at a spread of 524 basis points over SOFR for a yield of 10.6%. We also added to our position in bonds issued by Bread Financial Holdings, a publicly traded provider of loyalty and affinity credit card solutions with significant cash flow for debt servicing and demonstrated resiliency during COVID-19. We purchased the BB- rated bonds at a spread of 524 basis points over Treasuries for a yield of 9.5%.


At the end of the quarter, the Strategy’s duration was 6.2 years and continued to approximate that of its benchmark (see Exhibit IV). Holdings of Treasuries and reserves increased to 14% from 10% amid weakening credit valuations. Allocation to HY instruments remained near 17%. Yield to maturity was 6.5% and remained elevated versus bond market alternatives. The option-adjusted spread (OAS) was 245 basis points; for reference, the Bloomberg U.S. Corporate Index’s OAS was 99 basis points at quarter-end.

Exhibit IV: Characteristics as of March 31, 2024, including credit rating and sector allocation for both the portfolio and benchmark.


We believe credit and valuation discipline remain essential as others may be tempted to reach for yield with still-elevated interest rates. With robust issuance, eager investor demand, and narrow credit spreads, it is imperative that each opportunity be carefully vetted for durability and meet our required valuation criteria prior to investment. The most worrisome risks are often those that are unanticipated. Therefore, we continue to evaluate each credit’s durability, structure, management, and transparency while stress-testing the credit to the worst environment its industry faced before investing. We believe preparation and discipline will be necessary for navigating the months and quarters ahead.


1Basis points (bps) is a unit that is equal to 1/100th of 1% and is used to denote the change in a financial instrument.
2Our valuation framework is a purely quantitative screen for bonds that may offer excess return potential, primarily from mean reversion in spreads. When the potential excess return is above a specific hurdle rate, we label them “Buys” (others are “Holds” or “Sells”). These ratings are category names, not recommendations, as the valuation framework includes no credit research, a vital second step.
3Obligations such as bonds, notes, loans, leases, and other forms of indebtedness, except for cash and cash equivalents, issued by obligors other than the U.S. Government and its agencies, totaled at the level of the ultimate obligor or guarantor of the Obligation. Durable means the ability to withstand a wide variety of economic conditions.
4SOFR = Secured Overnight Financing Rate, which is a broad measure of the cost of borrowing cash overnight collateralized by Treasury securities.

Totals may not sum due to rounding.

The securities do not represent all of the securities purchased, sold, or recommended for advisory clients and you should not assume that investments in the securities were or will be profitable.

Issuers with credit ratings of AA or better are considered to be of high credit quality, with little risk of issuer failure. Issuers with credit ratings of BBB or better are considered to be of good credit quality, with adequate capacity to meet financial commitments. Issuers with credit ratings below BBB are considered speculative in nature and are vulnerable to the possibility of issuer failure or business interruption.

Purchase and sale information provided should not be considered as a recommendation to purchase or sell a particular security and that there is no assurance, as of the date of publication, that the securities purchased remain in a portfolio or that securities sold have not been repurchased.

Opinions, forecasts, and discussions about investment strategies are as of the date of this commentary and are subject to change without notice. References to specific securities, asset classes, and financial markets are not intended to be and should not be interpreted as recommendations.


Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index is a market value-weighted index that tracks the daily price, coupon, pay-downs, and total return performance of fixed-rate, publicly placed, dollar denominated, and non-convertible investment grade debt issues with at least $300 million paramount outstanding and with at least one year to final maturity The index is not available for direct investment.

Duration is a measure of the portfolio’s return sensitivity to changes in interest rates.

An index is not available for direct investment

“Bloomberg®” and the Bloomberg indexes are service marks of Bloomberg Finance L.P. and its affiliates, including Bloomberg Index Services Limited (“BISL”), the administrator of the indexes (collectively, “Bloomberg”) and have been licensed for use for certain purposes by Brown Brothers Harriman & Co (BBH). Bloomberg is not affiliated with BBH, and Bloomberg does not approve, endorse, review, or recommend the Strategy. Bloomberg does not guarantee the timeliness, accurateness, or completeness of any data or information relating to the Strategy.


Investors should be able to withstand short-term fluctuations in fixed income markets in return for potentially higher returns over the long term. The value of portfolios changes every day and can be affected by changes in interest rates, general market conditions, and other political, social, and economic developments.

Asset-Backed Securities (“ABS”) are subject to risks due to defaults by the borrowers; failure of the issuer or servicer to perform; the variability in cash flows due to amortization or acceleration features; changes in interest rates which may influence the prepayments of the underlying securities; misrepresentation of asset quality, value or inadequate controls over disbursements and receipts; and the ABS being structured in ways that give certain investors less credit risk protection than others. Below investment grade bonds, commonly known as junk bonds, are subject to a high level of credit and market risks.

SASB lacks the diversification of a transaction backed by multiple loans since performance is concentrated in one commercial property. SASBs may be less liquid in the secondary market than loans backed by multiple commercial properties.

The Strategy invests in derivative instruments, investments whose values depend on the performance of the underlying security, assets, interest rate, index or currency and entail potentially higher volatility and risk of loss compared to traditional bond investments.

Foreign investing involves special risks including currency risk, increased volatility, political risks, and differences in auditing and other financial standards. Prices of emerging market securities can be significantly more volatile than the prices of securities in developed countries, and currency risk and political risks are accentuated in emerging markets.

The Strategy may engage in certain investment activities that involve the use of leverage, which may magnify losses.

A significant investment of assets in one or more sectors, industries, securities and/or durations may increase its vulnerability to any single economic, political, or regulatory developments, which will have a greater impact on returns.

Illiquid investments subject the investor to the risk that she may not be able to sell the investments when desired or at favorable prices.

Portfolio Characteristics are of the Representative Account. The Representative Account is managed with the same investment objectives and employs substantially the same investment philosophy and processes as the Strategy.

One basis point or bp is 1/100th of a percent (0.01% or 0.0001).

Brown Brothers Harriman Investment Management (“IM”), a division of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co (“BBH”), claims compliance with the Global Investment Per­formance Standards (GIPS®). GIPS® is a registered trademark of CFA Institute. CFA Institute does not endorse or promote this organization, nor does it warrant the accuracy or quality of the content contained herein.

To receive additional information regarding IM, including a GIPS Composite Report for the strategy, contact John W. Ackler at 212 493-8247 or via email at

Gross of fee performance results for this composite do not reflect the deduction of investment advisory fees. Actual returns will be reduced by such fees. Net of fees performance results reflects the deduction of the maximum investment advisory fees. Returns include all dividends and interest, other income, realized and unrealized gain, are net of all brokerage commissions, execution costs, and without provision for federal or state income taxes. Results will vary among client accounts. Perfor­mance calculated in U.S. dollars.

The objective of our Core Plus Fixed Income Strategy is to deliver excellent after-tax returns in excess of industry benchmarks through market cycles. The Representative Account is managed with the same investment objectives and employs substantially the same investment philosophy and processes as the strategy. The Composite included all fully discretionary, fee-paying core fixed income accounts over $10 million that are managed to a duration of approximately 4.5 years and are invested in a broad range of taxable bonds. Accounts that subsequently fall below $9.25 million are excluded from the Composite.

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (“BBH”) may be used to reference the company as a whole and/or its various subsidiaries generally. This material and any products or services may be issued or provided in multiple jurisdictions by duly authorized and regulated subsidiaries. This material is for general information and reference purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice and is not intended as an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy securities, services or investment products. Any reference to tax matters is not intended to be used, and may not be used, for purposes of avoiding penalties under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, or other applicable tax regimes, or for promotion, marketing or recommendation to third parties. All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy is not guaranteed, and reliance should not be placed on the information presented. This material may not be reproduced, copied or transmitted, or any of the content disclosed to third parties, without the permission of BBH. All trademarks and service marks included are the property of BBH or their respective owners. © Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. 2024. All rights reserved.

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IM-14634-2024-05-03        Exp. Date 07/31/2024

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