It finally happened. After dangling on the edge of an inversion for months, the US yield curve has just officially crossed into one. The gap between 3-month and 10-year Treasury yields is now negative. 10-year yields have been falling, recently hitting a low of 2.439%. Yield curve inversions are seen as the most reliable indicator of forthcoming recessions. Yields have been falling as a reaction to a highly dovish Fed and weakening economic data.
FINSUM: This is a reason to worry about he economy, but remember that there is often a long lag between an inversion and a peak in the stock market.
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.
Bond investors are getting nervous, and not about the Fed or interest rates. Rather, they are worried about corporate credit. Most will be aware that corporate credit issuance surged over the last decade, especially in fringe investment grade BBB debt. Now, investors are fearing a “wall of maturities”. In the next three years, one third of all triple B rated US debt will come due, a huge test for the group of highly indebted companies. Companies will then need to refinance in this much-less-friendly environment. The Bank for International Settlements warns that in the next downturn, many BBB rated bonds will be downgraded to junk, which will cause fire sales.
FINSUM: Our big worry here is that many institutional investors have strict mandates to not hold junk bonds, so if a solid number of companies fall from the BBB level, there will indeed be huge fire sales in credit markets.
The recession has loomed over markets for months. However, in recent weeks those worries have faded a bit, especially as the Fed appeared to back off the gas pedal on rate hikes. However, a new survey from Bank of America Merrill Lynch shows that recession is the top fear among investors currently. A third of credit investors surveyed see a recession as their top fear. That is the highest level for a single worry in almost two years. Economic data is expected to continue to weaken, say investors.
FINSUM: The US seems to once again be the last one standing as the whole world starts to slow. Can we hold up yet again?
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.