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.
Goldman put out a warning on Friday and advisors should pay attention. The bank is warning of what it calls a “baby” bear market. The focus this time is not on equities but on bonds, which have mostly been very hot this year. Goldman thinks that Treasury yields are going to take a hit in 2020, falling back to around 2.25% on the ten-year. That is a pretty large move from the 1.7% level seen today. The catch on Goldman’s call is that it doesn’t really see the move beginning until the second half of 2020, so it is a bit of a delayed bet.
FINSUM: This is quite a long-term view and in Goldman’s own words is contingent upon investors thinking the Fed might hike rates. That seems a LONG way off; at least post-2020 election we would think.
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.
After what was a great run for much of this year, ETFs investors are fleeing bonds. After yields fell sharply for most of 2019, investors have been stung this month as yields have shot higher. Ten-year Treasuries have gone from 1.7% to 1.9% yields, causing over half of all bonds to lose value. Investors have been pulling billions out of funds as a result. The iShares 20-year Treasury ETF has lost 7.8% since August 28th. One of the areas that has been more durable is high yield, where average prices have risen a little over 1% in the same time frame.
FINSUM: Bonds losing is a sign that investors are getting less worried about a recession, which in our view is an optimistic sign.
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.