This year, fixed-income investors can't count on the capital gains they've enjoyed since rates began their long decline.

But the profits won't disappear if you stick to some smart strategies:- LADDER MATURITIES. One strategy for fixed-income investors is to ladder Treasuries, corporate IOUs, municipal bonds or CDs so that they reach maturity in different years.

This year, Peter Prentis, of Prudential Securities, suggests dividing 75 percent of a fixed-income portfolio among one- to five-year maturities and splitting the rest among bonds maturing in six to 10 years.

- BUY MUNICIPALS. A glut of tax-free muni bonds has kept their yields high relative to taxable bond yields.

Fund investors might consider Strong Municipal Bond or Strong Insured Municipal Bond (800-368-1030), both run by managers with fine long-term records.

The new Blanchard Flexible Tax-Free Bond fund (800-922-7771) will absorb all expenses through June, and its manager achieved superior returns at UST Master Tax-Exempt Long-Term.

If taxes aren't your prime concern, consider these options:

- SHORT-TERM BONDS. You can get nearly as much yield as 30-year Treasuries - sometimes more - with a fund that has an average maturity of three years or less.

Funds such as Strong Short-Term Bond and Scudder Short-Term Bond assume additional risk because they invest in some foreign bonds, lower-quality corporates and asset-backed IOUs. But the potential reward looks worth the risks.

- INVEST IN MORTGAGES. Ginnie Maes and other mortgage securities lagged in 1993 because so many homeowners refinanced, creating massive prepayments.

If yields remain flat in '94, mortgage securities should outperform Treasuries of similar maturities because they have a yield advantage of about one percentage point.

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Benham (800-472-3389) and Vanguard (800-635-1511) offer attractive plain-vanilla mortgage funds.

- JUNK BONDS. Moderate economic growth should be a tonic for high-yield corporate bonds, although they won't deliver double-digit total returns.

Investors in a junk-bond fund such as T. Rowe Price High Yield (800-638-5660) should expect a total return this year equal to the fund's yield (recently 8.6 percent) or slightly less, says Peter Van Dyke, manager of T. Rowe Price's Spectrum Income fund.

Other good no-load junk-bond funds include Fidelity Spartan High Income, recently yielding 7.9 percent, and Vanguard Fixed Income High Yield, yielding 8.2 percent.

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