High Yield – US Spotlight

Published on 09 Oct, 2023

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After recording a plunge in the US high yield bond returns in 2022, the Federal Reserve’s aggressive monetary policy stance to tame inflation proved crucial in driving asset prices in 2023. The possibility of a soft-landing, where the US Fed could afford to slowdown economy and avoid a recession, has favored higher-beta fixed income assets such as the US speculative grade corporate bonds. We observed this in 9M’23, where the US high yield corporate bond Index generated returns at ~6% whereas the US Investment Grade Bond Index remained flat. Barring Equity and Energy, the US high yield corporate bonds outperformed other asset classes like the US treasuries, gold, and metals. As recessionary fears subsided, spreads across all rating categories of the US high yield bonds (i.e., BB, B, CCC and lower) have tightened. However, due to higher borrowing costs, the number of High Yield Corporate Bond issuances remains below the five-year average. Notably, consumer discretionary and healthcare sectors remain challenged by multiple headwinds, such as muted consumer demand, pricing pressures, high labor costs, and rising input costs. The impact is witnessed from the fact that a major chunk of bankruptcy protection filings has been in these sectors. Overall, bankruptcies in YTD Aug’23 have surpassed 2021 and 2022 levels. We still see value in the real estate, materials, and utilities sector, which recorded relatively lower bankruptcies in 2023.