Fidelity Strategic Income Fund Excels In Hard Year for Bonds

The fixed-income market was volatile in 2023, but this Fidelity bond fund outperformed its peers thanks to strategic moves by management.

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At long last, "there's income back in fixed income," says Fidelity Strategic Income (FADMX) fund co-manager Ford O'Neil. The Bloomberg Aggregate U.S. Bond index now yields better than 5%, which "makes us optimistic about this asset class," he adds. 

The backdrop, of course, is the terrible year that bonds had in 2022, as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. (Bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions.) Strategic Income – a member of the Kiplinger 25, our favorite no-load mutual funds – lost 11% that year, compared with a 13% decline in the Agg index. 

But over the past 12 months, the multisector bond fund has excelled, with a 4.0% return, outpacing the Agg index and its peers. 

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Strategic Income invests in bonds from multiple sectors, keeping in mind a benchmark of 45% of assets in high-yield bonds (debt that's rated double-B to triple-C), 30% in U.S. government and other high-quality issues, 15% in emerging-markets debt, and 10% in IOUs from developed foreign countries. The lead managers, O'Neil and Adam Kramer, decide how much to devote to each sector; other Fidelity bond sector specialists pick the securities. 

Over the past 12 months, the managers tilted toward high-yield bonds, specifically corporate bonds and leveraged loans (short- to medium-term loans issued to firms with below-investment-grade ratings). That shift paid off as both bond sectors posted double-digit returns over the past year. Emerging-markets debt and the fund's foreign developed bond sleeve performed well, too, beating their respective benchmarks. But the fund's U.S. government debt was flat and a bit of a drag on returns. 

These days, the managers are choosing to hew closely to their benchmark's weighting. "There's a wide range of macroeconomic outcomes that could unfold in the next six to 12 months and we would prefer a neutral position," he says. In 2024, he adds, smart security selection will matter more than asset allocation. 

Note: This item first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, a monthly, trustworthy source of advice and guidance. Subscribe to help you make more money and keep more of the money you make here.

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Nellie S. Huang
Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Nellie joined Kiplinger in August 2011 after a seven-year stint in Hong Kong. There, she worked for the Wall Street Journal Asia, where as lifestyle editor, she launched and edited Scene Asia, an online guide to food, wine, entertainment and the arts in Asia. Prior to that, she was an editor at Weekend Journal, the Friday lifestyle section of the Wall Street Journal Asia. Kiplinger isn't Nellie's first foray into personal finance: She has also worked at SmartMoney (rising from fact-checker to senior writer), and she was a senior editor at Money.