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Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips 11-03-22

How is the high yield market coping?

Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Do remember that the value of an investment and the income generated from them can fall as well as rise.

There is a lot to unpack in this question. The short answer is, quite well.

Major equity indices are, as I type, still reeling, with the Eurostoxx and growth-heavy Nasdaq both down 15% year-to-date. The global high yield market is down close to 6.3% year-to-date in sterling terms. Drilling into this, the US market is down 4.8%, whilst European high yield is 5.8% lower. Given the proximity to the conflict and European reliance on Russian commodities, this difference is unsurprising.

Indeed, the US high yield market remains much more concerned about rising interest rates and duration risk than about aggregate demand in the economy and the potential for rising defaults. An illustration of this point is the continued outperformance of low-quality, CCC bonds. High yield market commentators have been discussing for months, nay years, that CCC bonds are a good place to hide from rising interest rates. The high coupons on offer are naturally more resilient to rising interest rates than the lower coupons you typically get from, for example, BB-rated bonds.

Of course, with commodity prices going through the roof, the large cohort of commodity sector bonds in the US CCC-rated part of the market are benefitting. With the fixed, limited upside in bonds, particularly when the market has already largely priced in their current good fortune, we don’t believe this is a theme that bond investors should embrace too readily. We must always remember the skew of defaults towards the lowest quality parts of the market. If an investor wants to bet on thematic, cyclical companies, they are better doing so in the equity market.

There is no such outperformance from CCCs in Europe, where the spectre of stagflation is arguably greater. Stagflation is when you have both inflation and a shrinking economy. Inflation was already proving itself frustratingly persistent before the explosion in commodity prices and will, of course, be exacerbated if commodity prices remain elevated. Meanwhile, European manufacturing and consumer discretionary spending will likely both take a hit. The inflation part of this issue means central bankers will be reticent to cut monetary policy as they normally do in a slowdown.

To a significant extent, such fears are playing out in European high yield spreads, the risk premium we are paid for the default risk that comes with high yield bonds. The European high yield spread – as illustrated in Chart 2 – has now risen to 4.8%, well above the long-term average of 4.1%, and we view this as attractive compensation for the risks.

Note that US high yield spreads are still below the long-term average, but with the number of interest rate hikes priced into US government bonds, the overall yield is in line with the long-term average. We therefore also like US high yield, particularly when we consider the likely resilience the US has against continued escalation in Ukraine. In our view, there is much less of a chance of a default spike in the US.

Our high yield exposure is currently split fairly evenly between the US and Europe (including the UK). We have light exposure to cyclicals and companies with high energy costs of production. We have zero airlines, which are so exposed to fuel costs. The quality bias we have within our process means we are very light on CCC risk and we don’t have any notable emerging market risk. Moreover, our quality bias means we also seek companies with pricing power and resilience, two operational qualities that are the best defence in more difficult economic periods. With these characteristics, our high yield holdings have an average gross redemption yield of around 6.7%.

Some may counter that if you’re sanguine on defaults, as we are, why not own more CCCs and boost your yield? The main reason we are generally sanguine on defaults is that a low proportion of global high yield debt is due in the near term: 7% in 2022 and 16% in 2022 and 2023 combined, as shown in Chart 3. Although, if you’re old enough, you can remember the high yield market closing to new issuance for 18 months during the global financial crisis! To be clear, we don’t believe this event will cause that level of market stress. We still believe a quality bias is the best way to approach the high yield market for the long term.

Many clients ask about liquidity. The honest answer is during times like this, liquidity is more difficult when trying to access a bid. Often the price to sell is lower than indicated on our Bloomberg screens (and therefore factored into the pricing across the market). We often see more liquid, large company bonds indicating greater volatility than parts of the market with, in our view, greater default risk.

During longer periods of market stress, these pricing dynamics tend to play out and the lower quality, less liquid parts of the market catch up in terms of mark-to-market pricing. Our mantra of ‘large, liquid, listed’ means we expect to be less impacted than many during such periods.

The corollary is that longer periods of market stress bring about valuation opportunities, as the compensation for future defaults – the spread – often overreacts. We do not believe this time is any different.

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Key Risks 
 
Past performance is not a guide to future performance. The value of an investment and the income generated from it can fall as well as rise and is not guaranteed. You may get back less than you originally invested. The issue of units/shares in Liontrust Funds may be subject to an initial charge, which will have an impact on the realisable value of the investment, particularly in the short term. Investments should always be considered as long term.
 
Investment in Funds managed by the Global Fixed Income team involves foreign currencies and may be subject to fluctuations in value due to movements in exchange rates. The value of fixed income securities will fall if the issuer is unable to repay its debt or has its credit rating reduced. Generally, the higher the perceived credit risk of the issuer, the higher the rate of interest. Bond markets may be subject to reduced liquidity. The Funds may invest in emerging markets/soft currencies which may have the effect of increasing volatility. Some of the Funds may invest in derivatives. The use of derivatives may create leverage or gearing. A relatively small movement in the value of a derivative's underlying investment may have a larger impact, positive or negative, on the value of a fund than if the underlying investment was held instead.

 

Disclaimer
 
This is a marketing communication. Before making an investment, you should read the relevant Prospectus and the Key Investor Information Document (KIID), which provide full product details including investment charges and risks. These documents can be obtained, free of charge, from www.liontrust.co.uk or direct from Liontrust. Always research your own investments. If you are not a professional investor please consult a regulated financial adviser regarding the suitability of such an investment for you and your personal circumstances. 
 
This should not be construed as advice for investment in any product or security mentioned, an offer to buy or sell units/shares of Funds mentioned, or a solicitation to purchase securities in any company or investment product. Examples of stocks are provided for general information only to demonstrate our investment philosophy. The investment being promoted is for units in a fund, not directly in the underlying assets. It contains information and analysis that is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change without notice. Whilst care has been taken in compiling the content of this document, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made by Liontrust as to its accuracy or completeness, including for external sources (which may have been used) which have not been verified. It should not be copied, forwarded, reproduced, divulged or otherwise distributed in any form whether by way of fax, email, oral or otherwise, in whole or in part without the express and prior written consent of Liontrust. Always research your own investments and if you are not a professional investor please consult a regulated financial adviser regarding the suitability of such an investment for you and your personal circumstances. 
Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips joined Liontrust in February 2018 from Baillie Gifford to co-create the Liontrust Global Fixed Income team. Donald had been co-managing the European high-yield strategy at Baillie Gifford since 2010 and previously worked at Kames Capital from 2005 to 2008.

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