The Fund invests primarily in below investment-grade bonds of corporate issuers. These bonds may pay interest on a semi-annual basis (i.e., cash pay bonds) or have a deferred interest feature (i.e., zero coupon bonds). The Fund also may invest in private placements. Only U.S. dollar denominated securities are considered for investment in the Fund.
Under normal market conditions, the Fund invests at least 80% of its net assets, plus borrowings for investment purposes, in a diversified portfolio of below investment-grade, high-risk, corporate bonds that are rated below Baa3 by Moody's or below BBB- by S&P or Fitch, commonly referred to as "high yield" or "junk" bonds.
The Fund may invest up to 20% of its net assets in bank loans and up to 10% of its total assets in equity securities, including common stock. Additionally, the Fund may invest a portion of its assets in credit default swaps in which the Fund may be either the buyer or the seller.
The Subadviser believes that the risk of investing in high yield securities is asymmetrical, with the risk of loss generally being greater than the potential for price appreciation in the same securities. High yield securities can experience significant price declines if the company defaults on its payment obligations or if the market perceives the company's ability to pay as becoming materially weaker, whereas there may be more limited potential for price appreciation if the market perceives the company's ability to pay as becoming materially stronger. Further, lower liquidity in the high yield market can make it more difficult to reposition the Fund's portfolio during periods of market stress, such as by moving from companies with higher default risk to companies with lower default risk.
The Subadviser's heightened sensitivity to the downside risk of high yield investing underpins its approach of seeking to (i) identify individual companies that it believes have the financial capacity to continue to meet their payment obligations on their securities through a range of market cycles, and (ii) avoid companies evidencing a higher risk of default. This approach involves the Subadviser conducting in-depth, bottom-up fundamental analysis and using internally developed proprietary tools to assess the potential risk and relative value of each potential company investment. In particular, the Subadviser focuses on a variety of factors involving each company, including:
This approach normally leads the Subadviser to avoid investing in those high yield securities that are considered by the market to be "distressed", which generally means those securities that pay interest at much higher rates relative to other similarly rated bonds to compensate the purchasers for taking on a perceived higher risk of default. The Subadviser believes its approach can provide greater downside protection for the Fund's portfolio over full market cycles, although at the expense of potentially greater appreciation during those periods in a full market cycle where the U.S. economy is experiencing stronger growth and/or stronger stock price appreciation. Periods of stronger economic growth and/or stock price appreciation tend to buoy high yield companies generally, depress default rates below historical levels and limit the benefits that can potentially come from conducting fundamental credit research.
Duration/Maturity. Although duration may be one of the characteristics considered in security selection, the Fund does not focus on bonds with any particular duration or maturity and does not seek to maintain the maturity of the Fund's portfolio in any particular range. The weighted average maturity of the Fund's portfolio was 6.35 years as of December 31, 2015.
Credit Quality. The Fund invests primarily in below investment-grade debt securities, commonly referred to as "high-yield" or "junk" bonds, but may invest up to 20% of its net assets in investment-grade securities, including U.S. Treasury and U.S. government agency securities. As such, the Fund's average weighted portfolio quality varies from time to time, depending on the level of assets allocated to such securities. The Subadviser does not seek to actively invest in defaulted securities.
Interest rate risk: As interest rates rise, the values of fixed income securities held by the Fund are likely to decrease and reduce the value of the Fund's portfolio. Securities with longer durations tend to be more sensitive to changes in interest rates and are usually more volatile than securities with shorter durations. For example, a 5 year average duration generally means the fixed income security will decrease in value by 5% if interest rates rise by 1%. Interest rates in the U.S. are near historic lows, which may increase the Fund's exposure to risks associated with rising rates. Additionally, rising interest rates may lead to increased redemptions, increased volatility and decreased liquidity in the fixed income markets, making it more difficult for the Fund to sell its fixed income holdings when the Subadviser may wish to sell or must sell to meet redemptions.
Credit risk: The issuer of a security owned by the Fund could default on its obligation to pay principal or interest or its credit rating could be downgraded. Likewise, a counterparty to a derivative or other contractual instrument owned by the Fund could default on its obligation. This risk may be higher for the Fund because it invests primarily in below investment-grade securities.
Bank Loan Risk: Investments in loans and other forms of direct indebtedness may involve greater risk than investments in bonds of corporate issuers. In addition to being subject to the credit risk of the corporate borrower, investments in loans and other forms of direct indebtedness tend to be less liquid than corporate bonds and are often subject to restrictions on resale. Transactions in such loans can take significantly longer to occur, because of substantially longer settlement periods and/or the need to engage in negotiations with the borrower regarding the disposition, meaning the Fund may not have access to the sale proceeds for a substantial period of time after the sale.
Market and issuer risk: Securities markets are volatile and can decline significantly in response to adverse market, economic, political, regulatory or other developments, which may lower the value of securities held by the Fund, sometimes rapidly or unpredictably. Additionally, an adverse event or adverse economic conditions may depress the value of a particular issuer's securities or may increase the risk that issuers will not generate sufficient cash flow to service their debt obligations.
High-yield risk: There is a greater risk that the Fund will lose money because it invests primarily in high-yield bonds. These securities are considered speculative because they have a higher risk of issuer default, are subject to greater price volatility and may be illiquid.
Prepayment risk: When interest rates are declining, the issuer of a pass-through security, such as a mortgage-backed or an asset-backed security, may exercise its option to prepay principal earlier than scheduled, forcing the Fund to reinvest in lower yielding securities.
Selection risk: The Subadviser's judgment about the attractiveness, value and potential appreciation of a particular security may be incorrect.
Liquidity risk: The market for high-yield bonds is less liquid than the market for investment-grade bonds. The Fund may at times have greater difficulty buying or selling specific high-yield bonds at prices the Subadviser believes are reasonable, which would be adverse to the Fund.