In the years coming out of the credit crisis, high-yield bonds were hard to beat. As global credit markets recovered and the U.S. economy enjoyed a period of steady, if moderate, growth, the high-yield Morningstar Category earned an annualized 16% return between 2009 and 2013. Default rates fell sharply after 2009 and remained low; with the exception of a brief stretch in 2011, funds that took the most credit risk ranked among the category’s top performers. Many expected more of the same in 2014 with managers citing relatively solid credit metrics and a generally supportive economic environment. However, 2014 had a surprise in store. Energy prices started to tumble in July and had fallen about 50% from their June peak by the end of the year.
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