Rotation to Duration: Seeking a More Resilient Portfolio

Apr 29, 2024
  • BlackRock

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Key takeaways

  • We believe the Fed’s current rate pause presents an opportunity for investors to consider adding duration back into their portfolios
  • In this market regime, we believe duration serves well as hedge and equity diversifier
  • Advisors who were underweight bonds in their traditional 60/40 portfolios should consider bringing bonds back to benchmark level or an overweight

Navigating today's environment - it's just math

Beginning in March 2022, the Federal Reserve (Fed) raised interest rates at the fastest pace since the 1980. The Fed’s last rate hike was in July 2023 and financial markets are continuing to price that the central bank will remain on pause given stickier inflation and stronger-than-expected economic data (Figure 1). The markets are pricing that the Fed may began cutting rates in Q3 2024.

Figure 1: Fed cuts are likely beginning in the back half of 2024

Chart image

Source: Bloomberg, BlackRock as of April 15, 2024. FOMC OIS stands for Federal Open Market Committee Overnight Indexed Swap.

With yields at current levels, bond funds can lock in longer term yields, offer price appreciation potential and overall serve as a hedge against a possible hard landing. Though elevated cash balances worked during the Fed’s hiking cycle, we believe now is an opportunity for clients to consider adding duration given the Fed's current pause.

While investors are not penalized for being early to adding duration, there is a potential cost to being late (Figure 2). Historically, cash underperforms when the Fed stops hiking (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Bonds have historically delivered the strongest performance during the “hold” period
Average annualized returns (%) 1990 – 2023

Chart Image

Source: Bloomberg as of December 31, 2023. Historical analysis calculates average performance of Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index (bonds) and the Bloomberg U.S. Treasury Bills 1-3 Months TR Index (cash). The data used for the last rate hike of a cycle are: 2/1/1996, 3/25/1997, 5/16/2000, 6/29/2006, 12/19/2018. Data used for the first-rate cut are: 7/16/1995, 9/29/1998, 1/3/2001, 9/18/2007, 8/1/2019.

Figure 3: Potential Fed interest rate hike pause and historical bond performance
Average 12 months following the last Fed hike (2/4/94 – 12/31/23)

Chart image

Source: Morningstar as of December 31, 2023. Asset class returns represents by respective Morningstar category. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results.

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Duration as a hedge

In today’s environment of slowing growth and inflation volatility, duration may offer a hedge against potential market volatility and be used as a portfolio ballast. Amidst the Fed getting close to pausing, this bodes well for core bond funds, like the BlackRock Total Return Fund and the BlackRock Core Bond Fund, that may be able to offer defense in times of market stress in the form of income. For example, during periods where the Fed is hiking interest rates, the correlation of US Treasuries to equities is positive (+27%), however when the Fed is on hold or cutting rates the correlation drops (-16%)1.

In addition, as markets were rattled by the US regional banking crisis in March 2023, Total Return and Core Bond saw positive returns as equities sold off (Figure 4).

Figure 4: When stocks sold off, bonds provided ballast
Returns during US Regional Banking Crisis (March 8, 2023 – March 15, 2023)

Chart Image

Source: Bloomberg, BlackRock as of March 30, 2023. Institutional shares class is used for both BLK Total Return and BLK Core Bond. *Cash is defined as US Treasury Short Bond Index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Index performance is shown for illustrative purposes only. It is not possible to invest directly in an index

Performance as of 3/31/2024, BlackRock Total Return Fund: 1yr: 1.76%, 3yr: -2.57%, 5yr: 0.81%, 10yr: 1.96%. BlackRock Core Bond Fund: 1yr: 1.51%, 3yr: -2.62%, 5yr: 0.55%, 10yr: 1.62%.

Case study: positioning the 60/40 portfolio

As of December 31, 2023, the average advisor’s portfolio was underweight fixed income by 5%2. In a market regime with 75%+ of fixed income markets now yielding over 4%, advisors should consider bringing bonds back to benchmark level or to an overweight (Figure 5). In periods of slowing growth, stocks may experience higher volatility, while high-quality bonds may offer a stable source of returns.

Figure 5: Yields are back
With rising yields, active sector rotation remain keys in navigating this volatile market environment

Chart image

Source: Bloomberg, as of April 12, 2024. 2021 yield is as of December 31, 2021. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Index performance is shown for illustrative purposes only. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

As of the latest rebalance in March 2024, BlackRock’s Target Allocation Hybrid 60/40 Model latest rebalance currently holds 63% and 35% of its portfolio in equities and fixed income, respectively – with the remainder being in cash3. In this rebalance, the Model looked to enhance the overall quality of the portfolio and maintain its overweight to duration.

To increase equity diversification, dynamically navigate today’s bond market and source active returns, the Model holds a 12% allocation to BlackRock’s Total Return Fund, which remains as the Model’s largest fixed income allocation (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Positioning BlackRock’s Total Return in a Whole Portfolio Solution
Below shows BlackRock’s Target Allocation Hybrid 60/40 Model as of the latest rebalance, March 14, 2024

Chart image

Note: As of March 14, 2024, the total amount of fixed income allocation in the BlackRock Target Allocation Hybrid 60/40 Model is 35%, with BlackRock Total Return making up 12%.

The Total Return Fund is an actively managed fixed income strategy which seeks to realize a total return exceeding that of the benchmark, Bloomberg US Aggregate Index. Given the fund's risk profile and long-term performance, Total Return Fund seeks to provide investors with core-bond defense by seeking to manage risk on the downside when markets come under pressure, while striving to provide investors with core-plus like returns by seeking to actively manage exposures for better returns over the long-term. The fund employs a diversified multi-sector approach built to navigate different market environments (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Total Return is more diversified than the Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index
Contribution to risk by strategy

Chart image

Source: BlackRock, as of March 31, 2024.


As the Federal Reserve nears the end of its hiking cycle, we believe now is an opportunity for investors to consider adding duration back to their portfolios. Duration may provide defense against potential market volatility and be used as a portfolio ballast during periods of slowing growth and inflation volatility. History shows that core bonds act as a diversifier when equity markets sold off.

The BlackRock Total Return Fund, employs a diversified approach with sufficient flexibility in order to navigate periods of market volatility, while providing cushion in the form of income, and broad portfolio diversification. This has resulted in generating Core Plus like returns with Core like risk. As of March 31, 2024, the fund has a Yield to Worst (YTW) of 5.66% and 30 Day SEC Yield of 5.44% / 5.42% (subsidized / unsubsidized). The Bloomberg US Aggregate Index has a YTW a of 4.84%, as of March 31, 2024.

In addition, BlackRock Core Bond provides investors with a diversified, core-bond exposure that seeks to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns that exceed the fund's benchmark, Bloomberg US Aggregate Index. The fund has a YTW of 5.27% and 30 Day SEC Yield of 4.48% / 4.37% (subsidized / unsubsidized) as of March 31, 2024.

Figure 8: Fund Rankings

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Source: Morningstar as of March 31, 2024. The above lists out the percentile ranking for the fund’s respective Morningstar categories. BlackRock Total Return Fund is in the Morningstar Intermediate Core Plus Bond Category, and BlackRock Core Bond Fund is in the Morningstar Intermediate Core Bond Category. Total Return Fund was ranked 1yr, 462/630; 3yr, 310/571; 5yr, 236/554; 10yr, 139/466. Core Bond Fund was ranked 1yr, 318/473; 3yr, 252/446; 5yr, 155/419; 10yr, 118/362. Rankings are based on total return excluding sales charges, independently calculated and not combined to create an overall ranking.

The performance quoted represents past performance and does not guarantee future results. Investment return and principal value of an investment will fluctuate so that an investor's shares, when sold or redeemed, may be worth more or less than the original cost. Current performance may be lower or higher than the performance quoted. For current month-end returns visit

To obtain more information on the funds, such standardized average annual total returns as of the most recent calendar quarter and current month-end and 30 Day SEC Yield, please visit:

Total Return Fund

Core Bond Fund

To obtain the prospectus for each fund, please visit:

Total Return Fund Prospectus

Core Bond Fund Prospectus

I’m up at 3:45 every morning. I want to know where all the markets are. I work out for an hour then the day really gets going.

I’m Rick Rieder, Chief Investment Officer of Global Fixed Income at BlackRock.

So my job is investing money for clients trying to generate returns using fixed income assets within portfolios. From being in this business for 35 years, you learn you got to be thoughtful, you got to innovate, you got to be different, and then apply that to the experience you have and the research that you’re doing.

Education for me is literally the foundation of everything. I’m chairman of the board of North Star Academy. It’s over 14 charter schools, serving 6,000 kids in the city of Newark. We started an internship program to bring high school kids in to help them with not just understanding markets, the economy, finance, but also understanding how you interface in business. We’re helping to change the future of thousands of underserved kids.

It gives you a real boost to see the difference you can make.

There’s a lot to do in a day, but when you start to see what you can get done, I think it’s safe to say that I won’t look back and wish I had slept more.

Meet Rick Rieder: Morningstar’s 2023 Outstanding Portfolio Manager

Rick Rieder, Chief Investment Officer of Global Fixed Income, has been awarded the 2023 Morningstar Award for Investing Excellence, Outstanding Portfolio Manager. Rick Rieder’s consistent approach to managing strategies like Strategic Income OpportunitiesTotal Return, Global Allocation and more have helped funds deliver long-term success.


Senior Fundamental Fixed Income Product Strategist
Fundamental Fixed Income Product Strategist

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