Global Investing

Credit rally: Bubble or not?

Corporate bonds are back in vogue this year but how sustainable is it?

Just to highlight how bullish people have become, see following comments from fund managers:

“We do see scope for 2012 to deliver narrower corporate credit spreads and that will be the major positive contributor to fixed income returns this year.” – Chris Iggo, CIO Fixed Income, AXA Investment Managers)

“Corporate bonds should be a major source of performance for the bond component of Carmignac Patrimoine (fund) in 2012.” – French asset manager Carmignac Gestion

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s performance data as of end-Jan shows high-yield bonds are the second best performing in the bond group with YTD gains of 2.9%, ahead of 10-year Treasuries at 0.8 percent. The best performing is “preferreds”, a sort of hybrid bond/equity instrument which returned 4% this year already.

BofA’s investment team thinks equities will catch up and outpace bonds over the medium term however, because equities have had secular underperformance, pension funds and other clients are structurally under-positioned in stocks, and relative valuations favourequities.

Corporate bonds in sweet spot

Anticipation is running high for the ECB’s LTRO 2.0 due on Feb 29.

The first such operation in December has largely benefited peripheral bonds even though estimates show banks used a bulk of their borrowing (seen at  just 150-190 bln euros on a net basis) to repay their debt, as the graphic below shows.

 

 

At the second LTRO, banks are expected to use the proceeds to pay down their debt further. That is a good news for non-bank corporate credit because banks — busy deleveraging — are more likely to repay existing debt than roll over and existing holders of bank debt will need to look elsewhere to allocate their assets.

“Apart from the shrinking size of (European bank bonds) some investors might want to get out of them anyway and allocate assets somewhere else… Credit spreads are pricing in a very pessimistic scenario. There’s a very good value in non-banking credit,”┬ásays Didier Saint-Georges, member of the investment committee at French asset manager Carmignac Gestion.