Displaying items by tag: credit
The muni market has traditionally been a safe haven for investors seeking steady returns. However, things are beginning to change. The huge drop in yields is fueling some very risky behavior in certain corners of the muni bond market. With yields on even the riskiest munis down to about 4%, highly speculative borrowers, such as those building risky mall developments or far-away housing projects are raising muni money through governmental agencies.
FINSUM: Investors need to look out for these kind of deals. However, what could be more troublesome is how they will inevitably end up in many popular funds without investors even having awareness of them.
While many are worried about the domestic economy and whether the US is headed for a recession, those invested in emerging markets should perhaps be even more concerned. One of the fears specialists in the area have is that there is probably about $200 bn of unreported Chinese loans on the books of emerging market borrowers. China is not obligated to report these loans anywhere, so no one is quite sure of the size of the exposure. The risk is that as the economy sours, and these credits debts become distressed, China could impose some severe conditions on borrowers, which could cause emerging markets to seize up.
FINSUM: We could see this becoming an issue, especially because China will be feeling distress itself, which means it is likely to use a heavy hand. Even if nothing comes of this, it will likely weigh on EM asset prices in the near-term because of the uncertainty.
High yield companies have been big beneficiaries of the tumble in yields this year. But not in the way one thinks, not in the form of a big rally. Instead, highly indebted borrowers have been using the tumble in yields as a way to refinance their debt and lengthen out maturities. The practice has been very widespread. According to one portfolio manager, “It’s a recipe for disaster in the longer term … As an investor, it means you are lending to fairly risky companies at fairly low rates at the end of the cycle. It might not be three months from now or six months from now, but at some point these bonds are going to be pretty challenged”.
FINSUM: Kick the can down the road for as long as you can. That has been the mantra of junk bond markets since the Crisis. When will the musical chairs stop?
There have been a lot of stories, admittedly in this publication too, that have diminished the threat of the current trade war with China for the US economy. In a very direct sense, that may be true, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about the Chinese economy. Most people think that China is currently slowing because of the trade war with the US, but that is not really the case. The much bigger issue is that the country’s credit boom has run its course and the government is running out of options to boost growth. The credit boom was caused by the government needing to stimulate consumer spending in an effort to spur a domestic consumption economy, but credit has more or less reached it limits, and therefore, so has the economy.
FINSUM: If China has a big contraction/meltdown, it will ripple across all the countries who are part of its ecosystem, including all the EMs in the region, Africa, and then ultimately the big developed economies with which it is now inextricably linked.
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.