Bonds: High Yield

(New York)

While the stock market is getting all of the attention, the bond market is experiencing a lot of turbulence as well. The riskiest corners of the debt market, including junk bonds and loans, are on pace for their worst month since the US downgrade in August 2011. High yield’s spread to Treasuries has surged a whopping 110 basis points since the start of the month, and unlike in stocks, there aren’t signs of a rebound. The average yield on the index is 8%.

FINSUM: It is reasonable to be nervous about credit right now given the huge volume of issuance in recent years and the pending threat of a recession and accompanying earnings slowdown.

(New York)

In many ways credit markets are a major bellwether for both the economy and the stock market. And right now, they are sending some poor signals. Investors are afraid of rate hikes and money managers are refusing to bankroll buyouts. As a gauge to how brutal the environment is, consider this: not one company has borrowed in the US high yield market this month! A strategist from Janney Montgomery Scott put the current market environment in perspective: “This is clearly more than year-end jitters … What we’re seeing now is pretty typical for end-of-credit-cycle behaviour”. Yields on junk bonds have climbed over 100 basis points since mid-September.

FINSUM: Junk bonds are likely feeling more heat from the worries about a recession and weakening of earnings (in light of high indebtedness) than they are interest rates.

(New York)

How to protect against the next recession? This is a difficult question. Since it may be rate induced, it will be hard to hide out in Treasuries, and gold has not inspired much confidence. Well, SkyBridge Capital thinks the big money maker is to short high yields. “Our largest short position right now is in high yield, and it’s not because we think we’re going to make money this year or next year … It’s to protect against the eventual recession or [a] surprise recession”, says a portfolio manager there. “If you’re looking to put on [a] relative cheap short position, it’s hard to figure out how you lose money given how tight spreads are”.

FINSUM: High yield has seen a big expansion of credit and a decline in quality, and when the next recession rolls around there are going to be some big losses.

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