15 September 2023
Fixed interest assets have had a bumpy ride over the past two years. This has been unusual, given fixed interest is generally considered a more defensive asset class, or haven, when riskier assets (such as listed shares) experience volatility.
Fixed interest securities are a type of debt investment. The asset class has been impacted by an unusual combination of economic and market factors.
- The sharp rise in interest rates has impacted returns for fixed interest assets. This is because the price of fixed interest securities has an inverse relationship with interest rates.
- Fixed interest investments were not their traditional defensive haven in FY22. The value of fixed interest securities broadly went backwards due to the unusual combination of high inflation, rising interest rates and slowing economic growth.
- Market changes can be unsettling – but are expected at times. Make sure your super is working towards your personal retirement needs and consider speaking to a financial adviser. Remember that super is all about the long term.
What is fixed interest?
A fixed interest security works like a loan. The issuer of a fixed income security, such as a government or company, is the borrower - raising money by issuing fixed interest securities. The investor lends money by investing in or purchasing the fixed income security.
Fixed interest securities typically pay periodic interest payments to investors throughout the life of the investment and the repayment of the principal amount at maturity.
Here’s an example of a $10,000 fixed rate bond with twice-yearly coupons of $250.
Sample cash flows of a fixed interest bond
The returns of fixed interest securities have 2 components:
- the bond price, which can fluctuate; and
- interest payments, in the form of regular coupon payments.
Fixed interest markets are the largest capital markets in the world. They play an important role in the global financial system. Any person who has bought a house and has a mortgage has benefitted from the bond market. The fixed interest asset class can also be referred to as fixed income or bonds, with the terms used interchangeably.
Some examples of fixed interest securities include Federal, State and Territory government bonds, corporate bonds, asset-backed securities, floating-rate notes and indexed securities.
Fixed interest securities generally offer steady income and capital security. They also provide portfolio diversification, downside protection and lower volatility. For this reason, fixed interest is often described as a defensive asset class.
Fixed interest doesn’t mean fixed return
There are times in the market and economic cycle when fixed interest returns are negative.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) lifted the nation’s official cash rate for the first time in 11 years in May 2022. It went from 0.10% to 0.35%. By June 2023, the RBA had increased the cash rate to 4.10%. It’s a similar story globally, where central banks have raised rates around the world.
This sharp rise in interest rates drove more modest returns for fixed interest assets. This is because the price of fixed interest securities has an inverse relationship with interest rates.
When rates rise, newly issued bonds will pay higher interest and higher yields than bonds that were previously issued. That makes previously issued bonds less attractive, decreasing their value and price.
By the same logic, when monetary tightening tapers off and interest rates begin to fall, previously issued bonds become more attractive, increasing their value and price.
Navigating changing markets
Market ups and downs can be unsettling – particularly for members who invested in fixed interest seeking a more conservative investment. But fluctuations do occur across all asset classes over the long term. Investing in a diversified portfolio can help reduce volatility and build your retirement savings over time. Our investment team is prepared to navigate these changing market conditions.
If you’re concerned about changes to your balance and how that could impact your retirement plan, consider speaking to an accredited financial adviser. Speaking to an advisor can help you review your retirement goals and consider your investment options so you make the right investment choices for you.
To find out more on our advice options, you can visit the tools and advice section of our website.
1. Personal financial product advice is provided under the Australian Financial Services Licence held by a third party and not by AustralianSuper Pty Ltd. Fees may apply.