Few investment markets worldwide are seeing greater expansion than Asian fixed income and some teams in the region are standing taller than others. This year, Best-in-Class in the Manager of the Year RMB Fixed Income and Absolute Return categories titles are awarded to Income Partners.
Income Partners was one of the pioneers in the management of Asian fixed income investments. Indeed, when the firm was founded back in 1993, local fixed income markets did not properly exist. Since then the business has grown in tandem with the market itself and become a recognized leader in both traditional and alternative Asian fixed income and credit strategies.
Raymond Gui, Senior Portfolio Manager of the firm’s Renminbi (RMB) denominated investment portfolios, explains that in spite of its burgeoning growth, the company’s investment principles are unchanged: “This is partly due to the continuity in leadership – our two co-founders still head up the firm, as CEO and CIO. We also monitor and understand regional macroeconomic conditions to assess where relative value can be found and then create portfolios with an absolute return mindset.”
As the ‘All Seasons’ moniker suggests, Income Partners’ strategies are designed to perform in every market condition. To achieve this, the management of downside risk is critical. The firm has an enviable track record of outperformance during various down markets over more than 20 years, including the ‘Asian Financial Crisis’ of 1997-98, the ‘dotcom’ bust in 2000 and the more recent ‘Global Financial Crisis.’
The investment process has proven the test of time. Job Campbell, Senior Portfolio Manager of the firm’s absolute return portfolios, commented: “We seek to achieve our investment objectives through three main components: fundamental credit research, top-down macro inputs, and risk management that is achieved through a range of tried-and-tested tools and processes.”
At the issuer level, valuations are determined following industry analysis, company valuation, relative value and an analysis of technical factors. Campbell continues: “Our credit research process considers cyclical and secular factors, barriers to entry and the regulatory environment for specific sectors and companies. There’s also a significant emphasis on the structure of an issue, including collateral and other covenants.”
The depth of the bottom-up credit research helps to mitigate default risk and provides a framework that portfolio managers can use to develop conviction in investment ideas. Campbell added: “By diligently applying our proven investment process, we have been able to identify investments, both long and short, through all stages of the cycle.”
Focusing on Downside Risks
As well as its focus on careful credit selection, the firm’s Asian credit portfolios utilize hedging and overlay strategies to protect against downside volatility, as well as to enhance returns. The result is a highly diversified and efficient portfolio that can generate returns with relatively low volatility over the medium term.
The unwavering focus on risk management is an integral component of the investment process. Macro/top-down strategy risks – including overall credit risk, interest rate and currency risks – are considered alongside portfolio and credit-specific risks. Commenting on the approach to risk management in the portfolios, Campbell noted: “The unconstrained nature of the portfolio means we can use hedging tools including credit shorts through CDS and cash bonds and macro-related instruments to protect the downside. I believe our disciplined approach to portfolio monitoring and risk management has helped the portfolio to perform during the significant economic downturns that have occurred over the past two decades.”
Old lessons for New Markets
Recognizing the unprecedented rise of China as an international growth market, Income Partners launched an RMB-denominated high yield bond product in 2011. Coverage of the RMB bond market was an obvious extension of the firm’s expertise in Asian local currency bond markets. Income Partners pioneered a dedicated RMB investment grade fund back in 2010 and was the first non-bank, local asset manager to be granted a ‘Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investors’ license in 2013.
Raymond Gui, Senior Portfolio Manager of the firm’s RMB-denominated investment portfolios, explains the guiding investment philosophy: “Essentially we have transplanted the successful credit selection process that is utilized in the firm’s absolute return portfolios. The emphasis remains on company research, again with the over-arching aim of minimizing default risk.”
Income Partners’ has developed a detailed, proprietary internal credit rating system, which incorporates both business and financial risk. “The internal rating system is particularly useful in the analysis of Chinese credits, given the lack of formal ratings that can exist,” noted Gui. In considering business risk, analysts focus on factors including country and industry risk, business model, management team and the strength of a company’s competitive position within its industry. Financial risk metrics consider an issuer’s capital structure and a range of key financial ratios. The two combine to create a single credit rating for all issuers, helping Gui to complete a thorough analysis of the risk/reward trade-off of individual issuers.
The number of issues held in the RMB denominated high yield portfolio is highly diversified. Gui provided further detail: “Each holding usually accounts for no more than 3% of the portfolio, helping to mitigate concentration risk. Country and sector exposures, duration and liquidity, are also actively managed according to the overall macro view. This approach supports our goal of constructing a portfolio that can perform in up markets and, more importantly, help preserve capital in down markets.”
Buoyant Conditions Persist
Uncertainty in financial markets appears likely to continue during 2017. Upcoming elections in Europe, potential policy action from the new US President, and the ongoing deleveraging of China’s economy seem to weigh on investors’ appetite for risk. Volatility could intensify, with trading ranges expected to be quite wide. Against this background, Income Partners expects to amend macro and duration positioning frequently through the year.
In spite of the uncertain market environment, Campbell remains optimistic on the outlook for Asian credit: “We believe the market will continue its tremendous growth trend in 2017 and see selective opportunities due to macro stabilization and the ongoing recovery in certain industries. There are also strong technical factors, with declining net supply, strong onshore Chinese demand for USD credit and the continued regionalization of the investor base. We also believe low default rates locally, and pressure on US rates should see High Yield outperform Investment Grade.”
Although there will remain a significant focus on China, Campbell notes some other factors that could support Asian credit more broadly: “Although the Chinese economy is likely to continue to rebalance, we see robust economic growth in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. With commodity prices firming, Malaysia and Australia are also offering interesting credit trades.”
To benefit from the market volatility that is anticipated, the best strategy for investors in Asian credit may be to invest in unconstrained products whose active management enables them to benefit from market volatility. With this in mind and considering its enviable track record in uncertain times, 2017 looks like another busy year for Income Partners. BM
環球投資市場當中，亞洲固定收益的增長，是甚少地區能夠超越的。區內部分投資團隊表現尤其出眾。今年，豐收投資勇奪《指標》年度基金大獎 – 人民幣固定收益及絕對回報兩個類別大獎。