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Bond investors had their patience tested by two years of negative returns in 2021 and 2022, as prices fell in response to central banks raising interest rates sharply.

The good news is that bond returns have recovered this year1 and the long-term outlook for bonds is better than it has been for many years.

We expect UK bonds to deliver annualised2 returns of around 4.4%-5.4% over the next decade, compared with the 0.8%-1.8% 10-year annualised returns we expected at the end of 2021, before the rate-hiking cycle began.

Similarly, for global ex-UK bonds, we expect annualised returns of around 4.5%-5.5% over the next decade, compared with a forecast of 0.8%-1.8% two years ago. 

Here we answer your questions on why the outlook has improved – and why bonds may have a place in a portfolio.

Why bonds?

Bonds are a type of loan issued by governments or companies, which typically pay a fixed amount of interest and return the capital at the end of the term. Once issued, bonds are traded, like shares, and their prices can fluctuate.

Bonds can play a key role in investors’ portfolios by smoothing out returns from higher-risk assets such as shares. While shares have historically delivered higher returns than bonds over the long term, they also come with higher volatility (or swings in prices). Holding some bonds in your portfolio can therefore help to offset some of this volatility over time.

When interest rates were at record low levels, bond investors became used to returns being relatively muted. However, we believe that higher real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates mean that holding bonds now has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the total return of an investor’s portfolio.

But what about the last two years?

The past few years have been challenging because bond prices have fallen as interest rates have risen sharply. Bond prices tend to fall when interest rates rise because existing bonds paying lower interest become less attractive. As prices fall, bond yields (which show the income as a proportion of the price) rise and vice versa.

But that’s not to say bonds have lost their role in a balanced portfolio (a portfolio spread across global shares and bonds) – in fact the long-term outlook has improved.

Why has the long-term outlook improved?

While higher rates may hit bond prices, long-term investors stand to benefit from higher yields, which will likely offset previous losses and lead to better total returns over time when reinvested and compounded. Compounding means you earn a return on the reinvested income.

The chart below shows this in action. Someone who invested £100 in global bonds in May 2021 saw the value of this investment fall to around £90 by the end of November 2023.

However, based on our current forecast of annualised returns of around 5% over the next 10 years, the investment would be back at £100 by early 2026 (shown by the gold line). It would also be at nearly £130 by the middle of 2031, which is above the value it would have achieved if interest rates had stayed low (and therefore if annualised returns had been around 1.3%, as we forecast in 2021 and shown by the green line).

Remember, though, that these returns are hypothetical and are not a guarantee of future results. They represent our forecast for a 10-year period, meaning there could be years when returns are lower than forecast (or negative) and years where they could be higher. They do demonstrate, though, the potential benefits of staying the course over the long term rather than making knee-jerk reactions based on short-term losses in markets.

Rising rates mean higher returns for long-term investors

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results. Any projections should be regarded as hypothetical in nature and do not reflect or guarantee future results.

Notes: The chart shows actual returns for the Bloomberg Global Aggregate Bond Index Sterling Hedged along with Vanguard’s forecast for cumulative returns over the subsequent 10 years as at 31 December 2021 and 30 September 2023. The forecast range represent the ranges from the 10th to the 90th percentiles of the forecasted distributions.

Source: Data from Refinitiv as at 30 November 2023 and Vanguard calculations in pounds sterling as at 30 September 2023.

IMPORTANT: The projections and other information generated by the VCMM regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results and are not guarantees of future results. Distribution of return outcomes from VCMM are derived from 10,000 simulations for each modelled asset class. Simulations are as at 31 December 2021 and 30 September 2023. Results from the model may vary with each use and over time.

What should I do?

As an investor, the proportion of bonds in your portfolio should reflect your goals and your attitude to risk. If you have shorter-term goals (for example, you may need the money in less than ten years) or have a lower appetite for risk, a higher proportion of your portfolio in bonds may be more appropriate.

If you are still comfortable that the proportion of bonds is right for you, it is worth staying the course for the long term. Sometimes the best course of action – if you have the most appropriate portfolio for you – could be to do nothing.

 

1 After negative total returns for global bonds of -1.5% in 2021 and -12.2% in 2022, total returns from 1 January 2023 to 7 December 2023 are +4.2%. Source: Vanguard calculations based on data from Refinitiv as at 7 December 2023, based on year-to-date performance of Bloomberg Global Aggregate Bond Index Sterling Hedged (hedged back to local currency to manage currency fluctuations).

2 Annualised returns show what an investor would earn over a period of time if the annual return was compounded (i.e. the investor earns a return on their return as well as the original capital).

 

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IMPORTANT: The projections or other information generated by the Vanguard Capital Markets Model® regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results. VCMM results will vary with each use and over time. The VCMM projections are based on a statistical analysis of historical data. Future returns may behave differently from the historical patterns captured in the VCMM. More important, the VCMM may be underestimating extreme negative scenarios unobserved in the historical period on which the model estimation is based.

The Vanguard Capital Markets Model® is a proprietary financial simulation tool developed and maintained by Vanguard’s primary investment research and advice teams. The model forecasts distributions of future returns for a wide array of broad asset classes. Those asset classes include US and international equity markets, several maturities of the U.S. Treasury and corporate fixed income markets, international fixed income markets, US money markets, commodities, and certain alternative investment strategies. The theoretical and empirical foundation for the Vanguard Capital Markets Model is that the returns of various asset classes reflect the compensation investors require for bearing different types of systematic risk (beta). At the core of the model are estimates of the dynamic statistical relationship between risk factors and asset returns, obtained from statistical analysis based on available monthly financial and economic data from as early as 1960. Using a system of estimated equations, the model then applies a Monte Carlo simulation method to project the estimated interrelationships among risk factors and asset classes as well as uncertainty and randomness over time. The model generates a large set of simulated outcomes for each asset class over several time horizons. Forecasts are obtained by computing measures of central tendency in these simulations. Results produced by the tool will vary with each use and over time.

Investment risk information

The value of investments, and the income from them, may fall or rise and investors may get back less than they invested.

Any projections should be regarded as hypothetical in nature and do not reflect or guarantee future results.

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Vanguard Asset Management Limited only gives information on products and services and does not give investment advice based on individual circumstances. If you have any questions related to your investment decision or the suitability or appropriateness for you of the product[s] described, please contact your financial adviser.

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The information contained herein is not to be regarded as an offer to buy or sell or the solicitation of any offer to buy or sell securities in any jurisdiction where such an offer or solicitation is against the law, or to anyone to whom it is unlawful to make such an offer or solicitation, or if the person making the offer or solicitation is not qualified to do so. The information does not constitute legal, tax, or investment advice. You must not, therefore, rely on the content of this article when making any investment decisions.The information contained herein is for educational purposes only and is not a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell investments.

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