Eq: Large Cap
One of the biggest ratings agencies on Wall Street has just put out a stern warning on the junk bond market. Moody’s says that high yield debt may fall “significantly” after a big rally this year. In a quote that captures the general disbelief that has accompanied the junk bond rally this year, Moody’s economist John Lonski says ““High-yield bonds have rallied mightily despite the lack of any observable broad-based acceleration of either business sales or corporate earnings”. Moody’s thinks that if performance of the underlying companies in the space does not improve, then there will be a reckoning, saying ““If the anticipated improvement in the fundamentals governing corporate credit quality do not materialise, a significant widening of high-yield bond spreads is likely”.
FINSUM: Irrational exuberance?
The Dow gets a lot of intention in the media, but in the investing world it is relatively rare to see Dow-tracking products compared to those linked to the S&P 500. This has led to a general perception of the Dow being old-fashioned and not particularly suitable for investment because of its odd weighting system. But not so fast (!), over the last five years the Dow has actually outperformed the S&P, and in the last ten it barely trails.
FINSUM: This is quite an interesting finding considering how the Dow is generally treated. If you want to play the Dow, check out the SPDR Dow Jones Industrial Average ETF Trust.
There are some very worrying signals coming out of the high yield sector. In particular, stocks at the riskiest end of the market have been underperforming. Bonds rated CCC, CCC+, and CCC-, which are the three lowest rungs before default, have been underperforming all year and that weakness has now reached an “unprecedented size”. What is worrying is that very lowly rated bonds are usually the most influenced by economic perceptions, and it is unusual that with junk rallying so much this year that this cohort has not taken part.
FINSUM: So there are two options for what this could mean. Either it means investors are just being cautious, or much more negatively, that credit conditions are tightening, which would be a sign of a pending economic downturn.
Analysts from across the Street have now put their predictions in for 2020, and the outlook is not as rosy as one would expect from a bunch of analysts who get paid to be bullish. The consensus outlook for equities can best be described as “meeehhh”. Morgan Stanley, UBS, and Stifel are forecasting that the S&P 500 will fall next year, while Citi, BAML, and Goldman are forecasting rises, but modest ones (single digits at the high end). Taken as an average, analysts think stocks will rise just 3% next year.
FINSUM: A published 3% forecasted rise by Wall Street research analysts feels more like they are expecting a 10% loss.
If the Fed isn’t stimulating high yield bonds, then they might be highly risky and extraordinarily overpriced. High yield bonds spreads have narrowed significantly versus Treasuries in recent months, a very odd move given the worries about the economy (which usually hurt junk bonds). Some think the Fed may be buying such bonds, which would drive prices up and yields down. Spreads are down 110 basis points this year.
FINSUM: If everyone was so worried about the economy—which would usually push Treasury yields down and junk bond yields up—then how could spreads have narrowed between the two? Something smells wrong here.
One corner of the bond market, or rather credit market, is having a tough time and it may be a negative sign for the rest of fixed income. CLOs, or collateralized loan obligations, which have been a star for several years, recent tumbled. In aggregate, CLOs dropped 5% in October, and those close to the market see more volatility to come. According to Citigroup “We think there’s more volatility coming … We recommend investors reduce risk and stay with cleaner portfolios and better managers”. CLOs are a key funder of the leveraged loan market, and weak demand there can flow through to boost borrowing costs to all corporates.
FINSUM: This is akin to a warning coming out of the high yield market, as what it reflects is worries about how leveraged companies might handle a downturn.