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Getting Ready for a Bond Bear Market

A solid performer that tracks the intermediate government/credit benchmark is BMO Short-Intermediate Bond (MAIBX), which has a duration of 3.2 years. Portfolio manager Jason Weiner has reduced his duration to prepare for hazards in the bond markets.

"If we get a resolution of the fiscal cliff, then we could see rates moving higher in the second half of 2013," says Weiner.

The Barclays Aggregate has 20% of its assets in corporate bonds, with most of the rest in Treasuries and government-backed securities. Weiner has 54% of assets in corporates. Those yield more than Treasuries. If the economy improves and rates rise, then corporates would likely outdo Treasuries. Corporates tend to shine when the economy strengthens because investors worry less about defaults.

Loomis Sayles Intermediate Duration Bond (LSDRX) has a yield of 2.3%, about the same figure as the Barclays Capital Aggregate index. But with a duration of 3.9 years, the Loomis Sayles fund has less interest-rate risk than many competitors.

To boost returns, portfolio manager Chris Harms emphasizes corporate bonds and other issues that come with credit risk. He has 7% of assets in commercial mortgage backed securities, which yield a percentage point more than Treasuries. The securities are backed by loans for commercial properties, such as offices and apartment buildings. While CMBS can default, Harms limits risk by focusing on issues with the top rating of AAA.

Harms says that his CMBS and corporate holdings should prove relatively resilient in a bond bear market.

"The portfolio is well-positioned to withstand a gradual rise in interest rates," says Harms.

Baird Intermediate Bond (BIMSX) has a duration of 3.9 years and a yield of 2.6%. The fund has boosted its yield by underweighting Treasuries and putting 48% of assets in corporate bonds. Portfolio manager Warren Pierson argues that corporate bonds are relatively safe bets these days.

"It makes sense to overweight corporates at a time when most corporate balance sheets are in good shape," he says.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Stan Luxenberg is a freelance writer specializing in mutual funds and investing. He was executive editor of Individual Investor magazine.
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