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An opportunity for income seekers

Key takeaways

  • Leveraged loans currently offer higher yields than other fixed income assets.
  • Yields on leveraged loans have historically risen along with interest rates.
  • As inflation persists and interest rates remain high, leveraged loans may be worth considering as additions to portfolios.
  • In exchange for higher yields and inflation protection, leveraged loans pose credit and liquidity risk.

Income-seeking investors keeping careful watch of bond yields, interest rates, Federal Reserve activity, and inflation have several interrelated factors to weigh and consider as they frame their investment strategy.

Eric Mollenhauer, manager of Fidelity® Floating Rate High Income Fund (FFRHX) says that in the current environment, leveraged loans have been providing income-seeking investors with higher returns than other types of bonds and he expects that could continue. From June 2022 to June 2023, for example, leveraged loans returned 10.97%, compared to investment-grade bonds' −0.94%.

"If you're looking for income from non-investment-grade-type companies, you want an economy with slow, steady growth. We are experiencing modest growth and if this continues, I expect interest rates to stay higher for longer, producing a favorable backdrop for leveraged loans," says Mollenhauer.

If you are seeking higher yields and are willing to take on more risk than with highly rated bonds, it may be a good time to learn more about investing in loans.

What are leveraged loans?

Leveraged loans—also known as floating-rate loans or bank loans—are loans made by banks or other financial institutions that are then sold to investors. Companies may use the money they get to refinance their debt, fund mergers and acquisitions, or finance projects. The companies that receive these loans typically have credit ratings that are below investment grade. These loans usually have a term of between 5 to 7 years, though the borrower can repay them at any time. They are secured by collateral such as the borrower's real estate and equipment, as well as intellectual property including brands, trademarks, and customer lists.

Unlike bonds that pay fixed rates of interest, bank loans pay interest at rates that adjust periodically, based on a publicly available, short-term interest rate. One of the most commonly used rates for setting interest rates on leveraged loans is the Secured Overnight Financing Rate, known as SOFR.

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Loans as investments

In the past, when banks would make leveraged loans, they would be added to the bank's balance sheet. Over time, banks began to form syndicates in which several banks could jointly lend to a borrower and offer the loans for sale to investors such as insurance companies, pension funds, and mutual funds and ETFs. Since 2010, the value of outstanding leveraged loans has risen from $500 billion to roughly $1.4 trillion as of June 2023, as large as the US high-yield bond market. The growth of the loan market has attracted larger and more established borrowers, such as Charter Communications, United Airlines, and Caesars Resorts, who might have otherwise raised capital by selling bonds.

Why invest in loans?

Leveraged loans not only offer potential inflation protection, they are also a hedge against rising interest rates. That's because, unlike most bonds, the interest rates on leveraged loans adjust upward along with rises in key consumer interest rates. That means loans are less likely than most fixed income investments to lose value when inflation and interest rates rise. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, loans historically have performed better than longer-duration fixed income bonds in rising-rate environments.

Floating-rate loans have generally fared well amid rising rates

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Leveraged loans based on Morningstar LSTA Leveraged Performing Loan Index; investment-grade bonds based on Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index. Source: Bloomberg Finance LP, Fidelity investments, data as of 6/30/23.

Another benefit of loans is that they typically offer relatively high yields. Like high-yield bonds, they represent promises to pay by non-investment-grade borrowers, and their lenders expect higher compensation in return for taking that risk. Loans can also help diversify portfolios. Because of their relatively low sensitivity to interest rates and attractive levels of income, leveraged loans have historically been positively correlated with inflation and negatively correlated with Treasurys. Keep in mind that diversification and asset allocation do not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss.

Risks of investing in loans

While loans may offer more protection from inflation and rising rates than bonds might, experienced investors know that there is no "free lunch." That means that no investment is free of risk. Because leveraged loans are typically made to companies with below-investment-grade credit ratings, they pose a meaningful risk that the borrower may eventually become unable to make interest and principal payments. However, this credit risk may be offset somewhat by the fact that lenders are among the first in line to be paid if a borrower declares bankruptcy, ahead of most bond or stockholders.

While mutual funds that hold loans may be attractive to investors who seek income and capital preservation, it's important to keep in mind that like bond funds and money market funds, they are not guaranteed by banks or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and should not be considered as cash alternatives or cash equivalents.

Also, unlike bonds, loans are unregistered securities and are traded over the counter rather than on exchanges. That may mean the loan market occasionally encounters periods when the number of buyers and sellers becomes unbalanced and trading at fair value becomes difficult.

How to invest in them

While most investors in the loan market are large institutions, professionally managed mutual funds or exchange-traded funds can help you add leveraged loan exposure to your portfolio. Funds provide you with access to an asset class normally available only to institutional investors, plus daily liquidity, and diversification across borrowers and industries. You can run screens using the Mutual Fund Evaluator on

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In general, the bond market is volatile, and fixed income securities carry interest rate risk. (As interest rates rise, bond prices usually fall, and vice versa. This effect is usually more pronounced for longer-term securities.) Fixed income securities also carry inflation risk, liquidity risk, call risk, and credit and default risks for both issuers and counterparties. Unlike individual bonds, most bond funds do not have a maturity date, so holding them until maturity to avoid losses caused by price volatility is not possible.

High-yield/non-investment-grade bonds involve greater price volatility and risk of default than investment-grade bonds.

Floating-rate loans generally are subject to restrictions on resale. They sometimes trade infrequently in the secondary market, so may be more difficult to value, buy, or sell. A floating-rate loan might not be fully collateralized, which may cause it to decline significantly in value.

Views expressed are as of the date indicated, based on the information available at that time, and may change based on market or other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the speaker or author and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments or its affiliates. Fidelity does not assume any duty to update any of the information.

Current and future portfolio holdings are subject to risk.

Diversification and asset allocation do not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

All indexes are unmanaged, and performance of the indexes includes reinvestment of dividends and interest income, unless otherwise noted. Indexes are not illustrative of any particular investment, and it is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time, and you may gain or lose money.

Indexes are unmanaged. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

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