BlackRock trims government bonds underweight, more cautious on credit

FILE PHOTO: The BlackRock logo is pictured in New York City

(This Sept. 5 story has been corrected to say BlackRock is more bullish, not less bearish, on short-term government bonds in paragraph 1)

By Davide Barbuscia

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The BlackRock Investment Institute said on Tuesday it had become more bullish on short-term government bonds due to attractive yields, while it was turning more cautious on the long-term prospects of highly rated corporate debt as its compensation above government paper was limited.

"We prefer short-term government bonds over credit," the institute, an arm of BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, said in a note. "We go underweight high quality credit on a strategic view of five years and longer and trim our overall underweight to sovereign bonds."

Yields of short-term government paper such as two-year Treasuries have risen sharply over the past year and a half on the back of central banks' rapid interest rate hikes aimed at curbing inflation.

On Tuesday, two-year Treasury yields stood at nearly 5%. By comparison, investment-grade corporate bond yields, as measured by the ICE BofA US Corporate Index, stood at about 5.7% as of Monday.

"We think high quality credit offers limited compensation for any potential hit to returns from wider spreads and sensitivity to interest rate swings," the institute said.

While its views on government bonds turned more optimistic, the institute maintained an "underweight" recommendation because of expectations that long-term bond yields could keep climbing, despite their recent surge, as investors could demand more compensation to hold long-term paper.

This could be due to a combination of factors: from higher inflation expectations and rising U.S. government debt levels, as highlighted by Fitch's downgrade of U.S. debt last month, to lower foreign demand for long-term Treasuries, with Japanese investors, for instance, trimming allocations because of higher domestic bond yields.

"To turn positive on long-term bonds, we would need to see term premium rise much more or think market expectations of future policy rates are too high. We are not there yet," it said.

(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; editing by Jonathan Oatis)