Bonds: High Yield
The dovishness from the Fed has been bullish for most of the debt market, with sovereign yields falling and corporate debt getting a boost. However, the riskiest corner of the market, triple C junk bonds, have been left out, with the group falling by 1.5% since May. Triple B bonds, by comparison, were up. The odd part about the losses is that signs of an interest rate cut are usually very bullish for junk bonds because they would mean lower interest burdens for the companies. That said, anxiety about the economy is high enough that such benefits were negated.
FINSUM: This whole situation makes sense in that the downside risk of a sinking economy is greater than the upside of lower interest rates for this subsector. Thus, the bonds are losing. In other parts of the credit spectrum, the risk-reward balance is different.
One of the odd things about the recession fears since December is that spreads on junk bonds have not risen. Usually, junk bonds sell-off when there are recession fears, as they are the riskiest credits and likely to suffer the worst downturns. However, the opposite has happened in junk, with spreads to investment grade very tight. In fact, investors are picking up so little extra yield in junk bonds, that in many cases they are not even worth the risk. Spreads are tied for their narrowest since the Financial Crisis at just 60 basis points.
FINSUM: The last time spreads got this tight was last October, right before the market tanked. Warning sign.
It is time to get out high yield. The sector has been seeing heightened fears for months, and prices have performed so well in the first two months of the year, that there is little value left. High yields returned 6.4% in January and February after the market came to a virtual standstill at the end of 2018. Part of the reason for the outperformance is that investors are demanding less spread to Treasuries, a fact that has not carried over to the investment grade market.
FINSUM: The pendulum has swung too far, and investment grade bonds now appear a much better value than high yield.
Today we wanted to write a story covering the topic of rate hedged ETFs. We have been examining these lately and feel they are in high demand because of the need for stable income for retirees and the still-relevant threat of higher rates. Mortgage REIT ETFs, such as iShares’ REM really caught our eye with 9%+ yields. However, they are very rate sensitive, so we wanted to find a better option. Enter ProShares’ HYHG, or the High Yield-Interest Rate Hedged ETF. The fund yields over 6% in a highly hedged manner, it goes long high yield US and Canadian debt and simultaneously shorts US Treasuries. The expense ratio is 0.50% and the fund has $127 under management.
FINSUM: This seems like a great fund to us—6% income with only 50 basis points in fees, all in a rate hedged package.
High yield had a very bleak run to finish 2018. The asset class went over 40 days without a single sale as the junk credit market seized up. However, it has made a comeback in a major way. The first five weeks of 2019 saw a staggering 5.25% gain in the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index. New issues were quite oversubscribed (more than double), and the general mood has completely shifted.
FINSUM: The Fed backing off on rates sure makes a difference! It is interesting the market reacted this sharply given that high yield is relatively more insulated from rates. In our view, the turnaround is largely a relief rally that the Fed won’t push the economy into a recession.
The junk bond market may be coming back from the dead. The “December doughnut”, as it is being called, is now in the past, and the frozen market finally thawed this week with the first new junk bond sale since November. The market had gone 41 days without a sale until Tuesday, when $4 bn of new issuance went through.
FINSUM: A 41-day freeze and then 4 sales in one day totaling over $4bn. Demand was so high the companies were able to raise more than expected. Maybe the worst is behind the high yield market?