BBH Structured Fixed Income Quarterly Strategy Update – 1Q 2022

Portfolio Managers, Neil Hohmann, Andrew Hofer, and Chris Ling provide an analysis of the investment environment and most recent quarter-end results of the Structured Fixed Income strategy.

Structured Credit “Carry” Portfolios through Uncertain Times

Investors were battered by global developments last quarter. Risk assets slumped with climbing inflation, central bank tightening, slowing growth outlook, and a devastating war in Europe. Commodities were an exception; prices of petroleum, metals, and food staples soared, further feeding inflation. U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) hit 8.5% year-over-year (YoY) in March, the highest reading in almost 40 years. Prices were higher across energy, food, shelter, and vehicles – far broader than the typical categories accompanying an economic recovery. In response, the Federal Reserve stiffened its hawkish stance, bringing forward rate hikes and reducing bond purchases. U.S. Treasury yields shot up on the quarter, particularly at shorter tenors, pricing in a rise in the Federal funds rate to 3.25% by Summer 2023. Two-year yields rose a remarkable 1.6% to 2.5%, 10-year yields were up 0.8% to 2.3%, and the curve temporarily inverted between three- and ten-year tenors, as shown in Exhibit I.

Exhibit I: U.S. Treasury Yield Curve - Line graphs with plots that show the yield to maturity of U.S. Treasury securities along the vertical axis and the tenor, or the time to maturity in years, along the horizontal axis. The exhibit shows the yield curves on December 31, 2021 and March 31, 2022. The exhibit is designed to illustrate that yields increased substantially across all tenors between these dates.

With a swift and sharp rate selloff, much of the bond market has experienced a staggering value decline this year. The Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index dropped 6.2% through March, the largest quarterly decline since 1980. Investors shifted out of bond funds, amplifying selling pressures. In credit markets, bond sales and the war in Ukraine sent credit spreads temporarily wider, resulting in the Bloomberg Corporate Index falling almost 8% in the quarter.

For over a year, our valuation work has suggested that high carry and short durations in certain structured credit sectors offered ideal positioning against a likely normalization of U.S. rates. As Exhibit II shows, these sectors have indeed outperformed most fixed income sectors in 2022, despite the Treasury curve spiking more at the shorter end of the yield curve. As Exhibit I shows, asset-backed securities (ABS) lost only 2.9% in the Bloomberg ABS Index and the J.P. Morgan floating-rate CLO index declined just 0.3%. The BBH Structured Fixed Income Composite, with a two years rate duration, returned -1.7% on the quarter, while one-year returns still registered +1.3%. Despite its Q1 outperformance, a representative account in the BBH Structured strategy now offers a noteworthy 5.5% yield on a high-quality, short duration, investment-grade portfolio that is well diversified across more than 20 asset types.1

Exhibit II: Quarterly Structured Sector Roundup – Table outlining key credit metrics for BBH Structured Composite versus various credit indexes. Data reported as of March 31, 2022.

First quarter volatility positions non-traditional ABS remarkably well

The first quarter’s rate and spread dynamics place ABS in a particularly attractive position today versus other fixed income segments. Exhibit III shows yields-to-worst for several fixed income indices against their average rate durations. For starters, two- and three-year ABS sit today at or above the high points on the Treasury yield curve. A substantial rise in the Fed Funds rate through 2023 is already reflected in compensation. And beyond the yield level, ABS also sit near the greatest roll-down return potential on the curve. In contrast, longer duration indices exhibit zero or even negative “roll-up” return to aging. It’s unusual that such favorable compensation is available in tandem with ABS’ traditionally short tenors and amortization, which allow for swifter reinvestment into future rate rises. One consequence is that the Bloomberg ABS Index, which carries a two-year duration and is comprised mainly of AAA-rated prime auto and credit card securitizations, today yields the same as the mostly BBB-rated 5-year Intermediate Corporate Index! Another consequence is that non-traditional ABS,2 with their persistent advantage in spread, is a natural stand out. The yield in the three-year JP Morgan Other ABS index, nearly 4%, surpasses all other IG indices. Predictably, the yield in a representative account of the BBH Structured strategy now exceeds 5.5%. Investment-grade ABS (and selectively collateralized loan obligations [CLOs] and commercial mortgage-backed securities [CMBS]) today offer some of the highest compensations available in bonds while providing great protection against future rate sell-offs.




Exhibit III: Yield to Worst and Duration by Sector (March 31, 2022) – Scatterplot showing the yields to worst of various indexes and the BBH Structured Fixed Income strategy versus their respective rate durations. The individual points are color-coded to differentiate traditional indexes, non-traditional structured credit indexes, and the BBH Structured Fixed Income strategy.

Even after Q1’s rate adjustment, short duration, high carry provides crucial protection against further rate normalization

We entered the year concerned about the impact that an interest rate normalization would have on many segments of the bond market, particularly those with longer durations and lower-than-average spreads. In our last Commentary, we conducted a simple illustration – normalize Treasury rates over two years to expected future inflation and raise credit spreads to their historical medians over a two-year period. The projected results would be a disaster across most fixed income sectors, and it was hard to fathom at year’s end. It’s extraordinary though how much of that potential normalization has actualized just in the first quarter (see Exhibit IV).



Exhibit IV: Amount of “Normalized” Rate Rise that Occurred in Q1 2022 – Combination bar and line plot that shows the modeled changes in U.S. Treasury rates in our “normalized” illustration from December 31, 2021 to December 31, 2023 versus the changes in U.S. Treasury rates that occurred during the first quarter of 2022 for each maturity tenor out to ten years. The exhibit demonstrates that the increase in yields for 2- and 3-year tenors experienced most of the “normalization” modeled to occur, while longer-maturity tenors experienced only some of the “normalization” modeled to occur.

Exhibit V: Yield Curve: Current and 2023 Projected (Normalized to Inflation + Premium) – Line plots showing the U.S. Treasury yield curve as of December 31, 2021, the U.S. Treasury yield curve as of March 31, 2022, the breakeven inflation rates for U.S. Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities at each maturity point as of March 31, 2022, and a hypothetical yield curve that would exist on December 31, 2023 if Treasury rates increased to levels slightly above the breakeven inflation rates.

As shown above, shorter two- and three-year Treasuries rose almost fully to a more normalized rate level that reflects the likely peak of the Fed funds rate. But longer-term rates progressed less than halfway towards their suggested normalized level (which is more dependent on long-term inflation outlook). We reprised this exercise at quarter-end given the new prevailing levels of yields and spreads. Exhibit V provides an updated normalized yield curve estimate (the yellow line).

Exhibit VI shows recent index returns and future returns projections should rates normalize to these levels gradually through the end of 2023. We believe investors should take careful note of the findings. First, see the right-most column. Performance of longer-duration indexes lose further nominal value through 2023 as longer-term interest rates could normalize significantly higher than current levels. Second, the returns on most intermediate-duration sectors are paltry through 2023. Investors would be better served by investing in a two-year Treasury note at a yield of 2.3%. Third, less traditional segments of the ABS, CMBS, and CLO markets demonstrate the benefits of “short duration with carry” in a rising-rate world. Yields are more compelling amidst a further rise in interest rates, spreads are above or near their longer-term averages, and durations to rate and spread rises are low. Indicatively, a hypothetical BBH Structured Portfolio extracts the benefits of “short duration with carry” along with active management to elevate yields, while carrying low rate and spread exposure. A BBH-managed Structured portfolio achieves competitive performance in a daunting environment where rates may continue to equilibrate to expected inflation.

Exhibit VI: Fixed Income Sectors: Current Attributes and Return Impact of Normalization of Rates and Spreads – table containing risk characteristics, yields, spreads, returns, and projected returns in 2022 and 2023 in a hypothetical rising-rate environment for various fixed income indexes and a hypothetical structured fixed income portfolio. Data reported as of March 31, 2022.

Structured credit issuance remained robust during the first quarter

Issuance was vibrant across most segments of the structured credit markets in the first quarter. Over $68 billion of ABS was issued, the second-highest quarterly issuance since 2015. CMBS issuance was similarly strong at $45 billion. Both marked the second-highest quarterly issuance since 2015. Issuance continues to be dominated by less-traditional collateral types. In ABS, “non-traditional” deals outpaced traditional prime auto and credit card issuance by almost three-to-one. Similarly, issuance of single-asset single-borrower (SASB) CMBS, and commercial real estate (CRE) CLO’s outpaced conduit CMBS issuance three-to-one. More than $5 billion of business development company (BDC) debt was issued during the quarter. The one structured segment that experienced a lull was CLOs. Issuance volumes declined following a streak of record-setting quarters. The ample availability of higher-spread, attractively-valued structured credit – combined with unusually high 2-to-3-year Treasury yields – offered numerous opportunities for us to navigate the market actively for our clients’ benefits.

Our clients’ portfolios  benefitted from the numerous structured credit opportunities that we participated in during the quarter. We initiated positions across a range of non-traditional ABS assets including collateralized fund obligations (CFOs), personal consumer loans, subprime auto, recurring revenue loans, venture debt, and triple net lease. We participated actively in several new single-borrower CMBS deals at issue. We continued to source BDC debt that exceed our stringent valuation and durability criteria.

War in Ukraine underscores the importance of “G” in “ESG”

ESG considerations are a fundamental component of our credit research process. ESG risks that are material to a credit impact its durability, reduce its credit support, and result in impairments. The “G” in ESG – governance – seems to get the least airtime in ESG discussions and can often be overlooked in structured credit. The past quarter served as a sharp reminder of the importance of good governance alongside environmental and social considerations.

Governance is addressed in several ways during our research process. Two of our credit research pillars that analysts assess are “strong management” and “transparency” to help assure collateral originators have consistent and verifiable management and underwriting practices to mitigate event risk. We also seek credits with tested bankruptcy-remote trust structures. Both trusts and pool collateral should reside in politically reliable domiciles. The conflict in Ukraine is a sober reminder that a credit’s durability is undermined by poor legal structures. Instruments issued under Russian rule of law were written down to zero and removed from debt and equity indexes. Russian-domiciled assets suddenly have little value.

Our sovereign governance assessment process, for instance, determines if a credit’s domicile has adequate legal structures for debt investors. The assessment incorporates several variables, including measures of political risk, perceived corruption, institutional quality, property rights, judicial system independence, legal system efficiency, and strength of investor protections. The framework has steered us away in the past from credits with substantial operations in Russia or Ukraine, as well as several other high-risk sovereigns.

Strong governance, alongside mitigation of material environmental and social risks, isn’t just about “ESG” investing – it’s an integral part of our robust credit research process.

Concluding remarks

Structured credit appears to offer investors today an unusually compelling value proposition given the flatness of the curve: elevated yield above all other investment-grade sectors and short durations. We believe that investors can enhance performance by embracing less-traveled segments of structured credit guided by an active manager with leading structured presence and a sound, time-tested approach. We appreciate our clients’ trust and look forward to our dialogue

As of March 31, 2021
  Total Returns Average Annual Total Returns
Composite/Benchmark 3 Mo.*
YTD* 1 Yr. 3 Yr. 5 Yr.
Since Inception
BBH Structured Fixed Income Composite (Gross of Fees) -1.68% -1.68% 1.26% 3.50%
BBH Structured Fixed Income Composite (Net of Fees)
-1.77% -1.77% 0.91% 3.14% 3.79% 3.96%
Bloomberg US ABS Index -2.88% -2.88% -3.06% 1.38% 1.68% 1.76%
*Returns are not annualized. BBH Structured Fixed Income Composite inception date is 01/01/2016.
Sources: BBH & Co. and Bloomberg
Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Bloomberg ABS Index is the ABS component of the Bloomberg US Aggregate index and is comprised of credit and charge card receivables, autos loan receivables, and utility receivables with at least an average life of one year, $500 million deal size and $25 million tranche size and an investment grade rating (Baa3/BBB- or higher) by at least two NRSROs. The index is not available for direct investment.

1 The Representative Account is managed with the same investment objectives and employs substantially the same investment philosophy and processes as the Structured Fixed Income strategy.
2 Traditional ABS include prime auto backed loans, credit cards and student loans (FFELP). Non-traditional ABS include ABS backed by other collateral types.


Investing in the bond market is subject to certain risks including market, interest-rate, issuer, credit, and inflation risk; investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities have prepayment and extension risks.

Single-Asset, Single-Borrower (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.

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.

Foreign investing involves special risks including currency risk, increased volatility, political risks, and differences in auditing and other financial standards.

The Structured Fixed Income Strategy Representative Account is a single representative account that invests in the Structured Fixed Income strategy. It is managed with the same investment objectives and employs substantially the same investment philosophy and processes as the proposed investment strategy.

The securities discussed 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.

Opinions, forecasts, and discussions about investment strategies represent the author’s views as of the date of this commentary and are subject to change without notice.

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 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 failureor business interruption. The Not Rated category applies to Non-Government related securities that could be rated but have no rating from Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s. Not Rated securities may have ratingsfrom other nationally recognized statistical recognized statistical rating organizations.

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 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 reflect the deductionof 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 Structured Fixed Income Strategy is to deliver excellent returns in excess of industry benchmarks through market cycles. The Composite includes all fully discretionary fee-paying accounts with an initial investment equal to or greater than $10 million that are managed to the Structured Fixed Income strategy. The target duration may range from 2 to 6 years. Investments are focused on asset-backed and related structured fixed income securities. Holdings are primarily investment grade but non-investment grade securities may be held. Investments may include non-dollar fixed income.

Standard deviation measures the historical volatility of a returns. The higher the standard deviation, the greater the volatility. The Sharpe ratio is the average return earned in excess of the risk-free rate (the Fed Funds rate).


Bloomberg US Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index (BBG IG Corp) represents the corporate bonds in the Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index, and are USD denominated, investment-grade (rated Baa3 or above by Moody’s), fixed-rate, corporate bonds with maturities of 1 year or more.

Bloomberg US Corporate High Yield Index (BBG HY Corp) is an unmanaged index that is comprised of issues that meet the following criteria: at least $150 million par value outstanding, maximum credit rating of Ba1 (including defaulted issues) and at least one year to maturity.

The Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index represents USD-denominated, investment-grade (rated Baa3 or above by Moody’s), fixed-rate, and taxable areas of the bond market. This is the broadest measure of the taxable U.S. bond  market, including most Treasury, agency, corporate, mortgage-backed, asset-backed, and international dollar-denominated issues, all with maturities of 1 year or more.

Bloomberg ABS Index (BBG ABS) is the ABS component of the Bloomberg US Aggregate Index. The ABS Index has three subsectors: credit and charge cards, autos and utility. The index includes pass-through, bullet, and controlled amortization structures. The ABS Index includes only the senior class of each ABS issue and the ERISA-eligible B and C tranche.

Bloomberg Non-AAA ABS Index (BBG Non-AAA ABS) is the non-AAA ABS component of the Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, 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 par amount outstanding and with at least one year to final maturity.

Bloomberg Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities (BBG MBS) Index is the Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities component of the Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index, 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 nonconvertible investment grade debt issues with at least $300 million par amount outstanding and with at least one year to final maturity.

Bloomberg CMBS Index (BBG CMBS) is the CMBS component of the Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index, 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 par amount outstanding and with at least one year to final maturity.

JP Morgan Other ABS Index (JPM Other ABS) represents ABS backed by consumer loans, timeshare, containers, franchise, settlement, stranded assets, tax liens, insurance premium, railcar leases, servicing advances and miscellaneous esoteric assets (that also meet all the Index eligibility criteria) of the The JP Morgan ABS Index. The JP Morgan ABS Index is a benchmark that represents the market of US dollar denominated, tradable ABS instruments. The ABS Index contains 20 different sub-indices separated by industry sector and fixed and floating bond type. The aggregate index represents over 2000 instruments at a total market value close to $500 trillion dollars; an estimated 70% of the entire $680 billion outstanding in the US ABS market. JP Morgan CLO Index (JPM CLO) is a market value weighted benchmark tracking US dollar denominated broadly-syndicated, arbitrage CLOs. The index is comprised solely of cash, arbitrage CLOs backed by broadly syndicated leveraged loans. All CLOs included in the index must have a closing date that is on or after January 1, 2004. There are no weighted average life (WAL) limitations. There are no minimum tranche size restrictions and includes only tranches originally rated from AAA/Aaa through BB-/Ba3.

“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 index (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 BBH Structured Fixed Income Strategy. Bloomberg does not guarantee the timeliness, accurateness, or completeness of any data or information relating to the strategy

Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. (“BBH”) may be used as a generic term 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. 2022. All rights reserved.

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IM-11044-2022-04-25     Exp. Date 07/31/2022

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