JPMorgan Total Return’s thin, turnover-marred team and flexible investment process fail to inspire conviction. It receives a Morningstar Analyst Rating of Neutral across all share classes.
This strategy may tap the credit research, analysis, and insights of the firm’s broader fixed-income complex, though practically, Bill Eigen, who has helmed this effort since its 2008 inception, works with a small dedicated team. Roster churn on this thinly resourced cohort (seven members as of December 2020) remains a concern given the strategy’s wide-ranging, flexible mandate, which has featured allocations to complex exposures such as single-name credit default swaps and exotic mortgage-backed securities derivatives (the portfolio held none as of late 2020) along with research-intensive sectors such as high-yield credit and nonagency residential MBS.
Eigen’s goal here is to, depending on his team’s view of macroeconomic conditions, stick close to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index benchmark during risk-off periods and diversify from (and outperform) it during risk-on periods. In its early years, the strategy often leaned farther away from its bogy to dive more deeply into opportunistic, credit-intensive fare, giving it an adventurous credit profile relative to its intermediate core-plus bond Morningstar Category peers. It has dialed back these investments in recent years in favor of more core-oriented securities, including investment-grade corporates and agency mortgages. Historically, Eigen has sought to limit interest-rate exposure by keeping duration shorter than that of the benchmark, and in recent years his leeriness over rich valuations in corporate credit have contributed to him maintaining a sizable cash stake (averaging around a fourth of assets over the three years ended December 2020.)
This approach has produced mixed results over the long term. The 4.3% annualized return of its Institutional share class over the trailing 10 years ended January 2021 edged out its bogy’s 3.8% result but merely matched that of its typical rival.