Market View

The rebirth of the 60/40 portfolio

The uncertain economic environment in 2023 has presented significant challenges for investors. Earlier in the year there was optimism that interest rates were reaching their peak. However, in the third quarter, the resilience of the US economy amid rising interest rates surprised investors, leading to a turbulent summer for financial markets. 

Sanjay Rijhsinghani
balancing scales


The Federal Reserve (Fed) and Bank of England (BoE) paused their interest rate hikes in September, but robust economic growth suggests that rate cuts are becoming increasingly unlikely. This has given rise to the "higher for longer" scenario, indicating that interest rates may remain elevated for an extended period. Amid this market uncertainty, mixed central bank signals, and ongoing volatility, there are opportunities that have emerged which emphasises the importance of staying invested. 

The rebirth of the classic 60/40 portfolio

  • The traditional 60/40 portfolio, with 60% in equities and 40% in bonds, had grown in favour following the global financial crisis as bonds and equities were supported in tandem by a benign investment regime of low interest rates and subdued inflationary pressures.
  • In 2022, however, rising inflation and rapid interest rate hikes caused both stocks and bonds to underperform, with bond markets experiencing substantial declines and equities also falling in unison leading to some to declare it “the end of the 60/40” portfolio.
  • However, the current economic environment is conducive to revisiting the classic 60/40 portfolio. Central banks, including the Fed and BoE, have aggressively raised interest rates, leading to the highest government bond yields in 15 years.
  • By holding bonds, investors can now generate annual income of around 5%, providing stability to a balanced portfolio. Additionally, certain stocks, following a challenging 2022, are beginning to look attractively priced.
  • This shift is noteworthy as it challenges the recent trend where equity returns dominated investment portfolios.

Benefits of the reborn 60/40 portfolio

  • Income from bonds: bonds now provide reliable income, which is an attractive feature for balanced portfolios.
  • Long-term gains from equities: equities remain a vital part of investment portfolios, contributing to overall wealth creation. While markets experience fluctuations, historical data indicates a long-term upward trajectory, often aligned with earnings growth.
  • Market timing challenges: timing the market is exceedingly challenging due to the speed at which markets react to news. Missing even a few significant days in the market can significantly impact your portfolio.

The dilemma of cash vs. stocks

Cash savers are benefiting for the first time in nearly two decades, with some accounts and money market funds offering interest rates exceeding 5%. However, there are drawbacks to holding cash, as it will most likely not keep pace with inflation over any mid-to-long term period, and the real value of cash depends on the rate of inflation. Fixed-rate savings accounts and timed deposits might appear secure but could mean missed opportunities if better investments become available and while high-interest cash accounts are attractive now, they will likely have lower yields when interest rates decrease in the future, which can erode purchasing power.

Source: Morningstar Direct

The pitfalls of market timing

Timing stock markets is exceptionally challenging, even for experienced investors. Market reactions to news are rapid, making it difficult to predict market movements accurately. Missing a few key days in the stock market can have a substantial impact on portfolio returns. Therefore, attempting to consistently pick the best or worst days is a risky endeavour and these attempts to time market entry and exit may result in missing out on potential market rebounds, which can have a significant effect on overall portfolio performance. 

Source: JP Morgan, Morningstar

In conclusion, the economic landscape of 2023 has given rise to opportunities for a reimagined 60/40 portfolio, combining income from bonds with the potential for long-term equity gains. While cash accounts may seem attractive with their high-interest rates, they may not protect against inflation. Market timing remains a challenging practice, and investors are encouraged to stay invested in a well-diversified portfolio to capture long-term growth and navigate market fluctuations.

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