Ivy VIP Corporate Bond

Ivy VIP Corporate Bond

Market Sector Update

  • In stark contrast to the third quarter, which saw a risk-on environment and the equity markets gaining high singledigits, the fourth quarter marked an abrupt downturn in the performance of risk assets. Equity markets dropped more than 10% in the quarter. Despite an OPEC production cut, the oil market sold off dramatically in the fourth quarter with West Texas Intermediate declining almost 40% from $73.25 to $45.33.
  • Given the risk-off environment, Treasury yields fell with the 2-year yield falling 30 basis points (bps) from 2.82% to 2.52% and the 10-year yield falling 34 bps from 3.06% to 2.72%. The Federal Reserve (Fed) raised the federal funds rate from 2.00-2.25% to 2.25-2.50%. The market implied probability of at least one additional hike by the end of 2019 dropped from 77% to 16%.
  • The spread of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Credit Index rose from 100 bps to 141 bps, however the move in Treasuries more than offset the spread widening.
  • After having outperformed investment grade for much of the year, the high yield market fell in the fourth quarter with the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High-Yield Index returning negative 4.53% for a yearly loss of 2.08%. The spread for the high yield market increased from 316 bps to 522 bps. Leveraged loans, which had outperformed substantially all year, also dropped sharply in the quarter with a loss of 3.08%, but still ended the year up 1.14%.
  • Fundamentals for the investment grade universe were slightly better relative to last quarter. Revenues and EBITDA (excluding commodity sectors) were each up 4.8% year over year. Sequentially, leverage for the investment grade universe was flat, while the percentage of the investment grade universe that is greater than four-times leveraged declined. Overall fundamentals for the investment grade marketplace remain weak relative to history, especially when considering the expansion is entering its eleventh year. Of particular note in the quarter was the high-profile downgrade of large investment grade issuers from the A to BBB. The quarter saw the highest level of A to BBB downgrades since fourth quarter 2015.
  • Investment grade issuance for the quarter was $187 billion versus $277 billion last quarter. December saw $8 billion of investment grade issued, compared to an average of $40 billion the past four years in December. Calendar year 2018 saw 25% of investment grade issuance used for acquisitions, higher than the prior two years (22% for 2016 and 17% for 2017). The year ended with the pipeline of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) deals at the lowest point in the last few years indicating M&A-related issuance may be materially lower in 2019.

Portfolio Strategy

  • During the quarter, the Portfolio’s benchmark, the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Credit Index returned one bp, bringing the year-to-date loss to 2.11%.
  • The Portfolio slightly increased duration relative to the benchmark; however the path was not linear. The Portfolio increased duration to in line with the benchmark in the first part of the quarter, but reduced duration in the latter part of the quarter, ending slightly lower than benchmark duration.
  • The Portfolio’s risk continued to be reduced, but at a slower rate than the previous quarter. The overall risk of the Portfolio, as measured by the credit spread, decreased slightly relative to the benchmark. Risk as measured by credit rating also decreased with a slight decline in the Portfolio’s BBB and BB weighting and an increase in AA weighting.
  • The Portfolio continued trimming cyclical exposure with declines in consumer cyclical and industrial offset by increased exposure to utility and technology sectors.


  • Looking forward, we expect continued softening of economic data due to the lagged effect of interest rate increases, tariff impact, Brexit, and the recent impact of risk asset correction on the wealth effect and confidence.
  • Last quarter we wrote that we believed the Fed would pause in 2019 and we now believe that probable number of hikes in 2019 is zero. As noted above, the market expectation has moved in this direction.
  • We believe credit spreads in investment grade and high yield will modestly widen in 2019 as the slowdown in economic growth we foresee is priced in. Fundamentals in investment grade remain stretched with corporate balance sheets remaining at the most levered they have been post-crisis.
  • Net supply should be materially lower than last year owing to wider spreads, lower M&A volume and the tax change reducing the incentive to issue debt. However, we expect a higher amount of total fixed income issuance principally from U.S. deficit funding. Additionally, the global shift towards quantitative tightening should offset at least in part the positive supply technical within the credit markets. On the demand side we expect more muted demand from foreign buyers due to currency hedging costs and demand from the fund community as flows tend to follow returns which have been negative this year.
  • Given our expectation for modest widening of spreads in 2019, we will be opportunistic about our credit selection and overall positioning to take advantage of the opportunities and dislocations as they present themselves.

The opinions expressed are those of the Portfolio’s managers and are not meant as investment advice or to predict or project the future performance of any investment product. The opinions are current through Dec. 31, 2018, are subject to change at any time based on market and other current conditions, and no forecasts can be guaranteed. This commentary is being provided as a general source of information and is not intended as a recommendation to purchase, sell, or hold any specific security or to engage in any investment strategy. Investment decisions should always be made based on an investor’s specific objectives, financial needs, risk tolerance and time horizon. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Credit Index measures the investment grade, U.S. dollar-denominated, fixed-rate, taxable corporate and government-related bond markets, including a non-corporate component of non- U.S. agencies, sovereigns, supranationals and local authorities. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate High-Yield Index measures the U.S. dollar-denominated, high-yield, fixed-rate corporate bond market. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Risk factors: The value of the Portfolio's shares will change, and you could lose money on your investment. An investment in the Portfolio is not a bank deposit and is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Fixed income securities are subject to interest rate risk and, as such, the net asset value of the fund may fall as interest rates rise. Investing in below investment grade securities may carry a greater risk of nonpayment of interest or principal than higher-rated bonds. These and other risks are more fully described in the Portfolio's prospectus. Not all funds or fund classes may be offered at all broker/ dealers.

Annuities are long-term financial products designed for retirement purposes. Annuity and life insurance guarantees are based on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. The guarantees have no bearing on the performance of a variable investment option. Variable investment options are subject to market risk, including loss of principal. There are charges and expenses associated with annuities and variable life insurance products, including mortality and expense risk charges, management fees, administrative fees, expenses for optional riders and deferred sales charges for early withdrawals. Withdrawals before age 59 1/2 may be subject to a 10% IRS tax penalty and surrender charges may apply.