There are currently a lot of fears about corporate credit’s ability to sink the economy and markets. There has been an absolute massive surge in issuance since the Financial Crisis, and a great deal of that issuance happened in credits just on the bottom fringe of investment grade. And while a good amount of that debt may founder and sink into junk, it won’t be enough to hurt the economy much. The reason? It is because US households have not increased their leverage significantly in recent years, which is likely to prove a saving grace for the economy. Growth in household debt has been lower than inflation, a sign of relative health.
FINSUM: While corporate credit can get markets in trouble, so long as the American consumer is not deleveraging, things will probably not get too bad in the wider economy.
Stock markets are taking a pounding right now. Where should investors turn? One’s first instinct is probably to look for ten-year Treasuries. However, that safe haven may have finally worn itself out given the current rising rate paradigm. So where should investors turn? Look at short-term (two years and under) securities, both sovereign and corporate. The two-year Treasury yield is now 2.82%, and funds at the very short end of the curve have positive returns for the year even though the rest of fixed income has had a tough time.
FINSUM: Short-term bonds look very favorable right now. Yields are strong and they have little rate sensitivity. So long as one avoids too much credit risk, they look like a good safe haven.
The credit market taught investors a very good lesson in the Crisis (not that many of them were paid attention to). One of those lessons was that the first signs of weakness in the market should be taken seriously, as they can be indicative of a pending meltdown. This occurred in 2007 before the cataclysm in 2008. It appears to be happening again now, as both US and European credit marks are showing some fault lines. For instance, the downgrade of GE is seen as a sign of weakness very similar to what occurred with Ford and GM in 2005.
FINSUM: There has been an extraordinary credit boom since the Crisis and there are bound to be consequences. The question is what the extent of those consequences will be. The market is starting to feel a bit like musical chairs.
This is a tricky environment for income investing. On the one hand, rising rates generally mean better yields, but at the same time, the chance of rate-driven losses is high. What if investors wanted to get safe 5% yields? Doing so is a little bit tricky and requires a blend of riskier credit and a mix of durations. However, investors can get pretty close with some individual ETFs. For instance, BlackRock’s iBoxx $ Investment Grade Bond ETF yields 4.39% and has shorter dated maturities with comparable credit quality to other funds.
FINSUM: This seems like a good choice, but there are also a number of rate hedged ETFs that have similar yields and almost no interest rate risk.
Everyone is watching the BBB bond market with a very close eye. The bottom fringe of the investment grade market, it saw an extraordinary jump in issuance over the last few years. Now, with rates rising, it looks very vulnerable. However, all that suspicion hasn’t amounted to much as investors have kept the area afloat. Ratings agencies and the IMF have both warned about the startling growth of BBB issuance, but so far, the sector is holding up.
FINSUM: Don’t be fooled. There is a massive amount of BBB debt and when a recession finally arrives alongside much higher rates, there seems bound to be a reckoning. That said, there are pockets of the market, like utilities credits, that seem like they will hold up better.
Investors need to face reality (not that they aren’t), this Fed is more hawkish than any since the Crisis, and despite the market turmoil there will be yet another hike before the end of the year. Rates will keep rising so long as the economy stays strong. That means investors need to prepare. They have mostly done so by fleeing bond funds, but that may not be wise, as there are some very attractive funds that can help offset interest rate risk. For instance, check out the ProShares Investment Grade—Intr Rt Hdgd (IGHG) and the iShares Interest Rate Hedged Corp Bd ETF (LQDH). IGHG is particularly interesting because while both funds go long corporate bonds and short treasuries to produce zero duration, IGHG holds less BBB rated bonds and has a higher quality portfolio, all of which has let the fund appreciate this year even as rates rose strongly.
FINSUM: There are some very solid and creative bond funds out there to help offset rate risk while still earning decent yields. Given where equities are right now, these seem like good buys.