Bonds: High Yield
The market has been extremely volatile this year and that has put many investors on edge, especially those nearing retirement who need to rely on their portfolios for regular income. Treasury yields have gotten so low that they are not a good source of yield. So where to turn? One option is fixed annuities, also called multi-year guaranteed annuities. In contrast to fixed-index annuities or equity-index annuities, the return on MYGAs is not tied to an index. Such MYGAs are currently offering spreads of as much as 300 bp over Treasuries, representing a strong opportunity for those who need guaranteed income.
FINSUM: Two things to bear in mind when considering these—they are generally quite illiquid as the money is “locked up”, and secondly, they do have default risk but often can have limited losses because of state guaranty associations.
The yield environment is a terrible one for anyone who is seeking income from their investments, especially those in retirement who may be living on a fixed income. So where can investors seek strong domestic yields? Check out mortgage REITs. Mortgage REITs have long offered some of the highest yields in markets because of the leverage they utilize. Most of the group have yields over 10%. Look at the following names as an example: AGNC Investment Corp. (AGNC, yield 10.2%), Annaly Capital Management, Inc (NLY, 12.9%), Anworth Mortgage Asset Corporation (NH, 14%), and Armour Residential REIT (ARR, 12.3%).
FINSUM: So obviously mortgage REITs have significant interest rate risk, but can you imagine a period where interests rates seem less likely to rise?
Anyone who has been looking at the bond markets is likely to be shocked at the recent moves in the space. Many “high yield” bonds (it is now necessary to use quotes) are yielding what very high quality investment grade bonds were just months ago. A recent sale saw $1 bn of new issuance for a BB+ company at a 3% yield. The huge move downward in bond yields is the result of the Fed’s unprecedented stimulus action, and in particular, their mandate to backstop corporate bonds.
FINSUM: The Fed’s actions have been so warping that they have called into question the very definition of a high yield bond. If every bond is backed by the Fed, then it makes perfect sense that their yields would equalize. In this way the market’s reaction is entirely predictable.
Junk bonds have been on a tear lately. July was the best month for the asset class in nearly nine years, with overall returns near 5%. The average junk bond yield fell from 6.85% to 5.46% over the course of the month on the back on continued monetary and fiscal stimulus. The market has risen so much that many are questioning if they have already missed the opportunity. To this question, one high yield fund manager says “I don’t think so . . . Governments across the world want to make sure credit is working properly”.
FINSUM: As long as sovereign yields stay super low and the Fed and government keep the life lines open, it is easy to imagine yields will keep falling for junk.
While some are saying that we are in “TINA” mode with equities (i.e. there is no alternative), high yield bonds have been seeing a big influx of demand. Because dividends are drying up in the stock market, high yield bonds are becoming increasingly attractive, and Bank of America thinks they are going to do well. They point out that yields in some bonds are much higher than similar yields on equities in the same sector and they expect spreads to tighten in the coming quarter. “While the easy money was last quarter, we still see many tailwinds to nudge high-yield spreads tighter in Q3...Markets should be treated to plenty of positive data surprises now that economies are exiting their lockdown hibernation…an essential ingredient for leveraged credit to perform.”
FINSUM: This seems like a reasonable call, but we think the positive data surprises might be a stretch. That said, yield-hungry investors will likely keep the high-yield space humming along.
Big debt investors are pouring dollars into risky debt markets and products, such as CLOs and their subprime-backed assets. Why you may ask? (as anyone might right now) The answer is that the riskiest borrowers are surviving this downturn much better than anyone expected. Spreads between subprime-backed products and US Treasuries have narrowed sharply, while new deals have seen big demand. According to an analyst at Loomis Sayles “What is surprising is how strong credit performance has been … Fiscal policy is really keeping the subprime borrower afloat”.
FINSUM: Regardless of whether or not you are involved in this market, it is good news that the demand for these securities is actually being driven by fundamentals. It is both a sign of economic resilience, and also of market rationality.