- US High Yield is now the best performing market within developed market credit
- Energy remains the worst among the biggest HY sectors year-to-date
- March tends to be a month of positive returns for HY credit and flat-to- negative returns for IG credit
According to Axa IM's credit market monthly review, the strong rebound in credit since mid-Feb has legs to run further. Greg Venizelos from the Axa Research & Investment Strategy team writes that the improvement in US macroeconomic data and the stabilisation in both the oil/commodity markets and the Chinese risk premia, have brought some respite to global risk. "Credit spreads saw a material tightening as a result, from levels that were arguably overdone in the context of global growth and credit fundamentals. Since 11 February, US High Yield (HY) has transformed itself from the worst performing market within developed market credit to the best performing, matching our early February call for HY to outperform investment grade (IG). Looking ahead, while it’s reasonable to expect a consolidation in the broader risk rally after a very strong run, we think that credit spreads can continue to tighten and HY spreads can compress further vs IG in the near term.
The rebound in US HY has been nothing short of spectacular, with the overall index returning 7.2% since 11 February, led by an increase of c.20% in energy and c.16% in metals and reaching 1.3% YTD
Venizelos notes that "the rebound in energy is, of course, from a very distressed level." Indicative of the brutal correction earlier in the year, energy remains the worst among the biggest HY sectors year-to-date, down by 2.9%.
The outperformance of HY over IG that we advocated in early February has materialised and we see scope for this HY/IG spread compression dynamic to run further. While IG spreads have clearly widened YTD, HY spreads have remained relatively contained.
As a result, the US HY/IG spread ratio has compressed from 4.2x in mid-December 2015 to 3.6x currently."We think that there is room for further compression in spreads, pushing the spread ratios towards the ‘low 3s’ in US and below 3.5x in euro. One technical hindrance to further spread compression for US HY, in particular, is that the US HY index spread has tightened markedly vs x-asset volatility, from 100bps (+3.7) in late January to -38bps (-1.5) currently, implying that the compression momentum could be due a pause for breath."
From a seasonality perspective, Venizelos noted that, on average, March tends to be a month of positive returns for HY credit and flat-to- negative returns for IG credit. HY credit has already met and exceeded this seasonal pattern, with US HY at 2.8% month to date, which is above its March ‘average plus one standard deviation.' "This suggests that the current run rate of HY performance is unlikely to be sustained over the entire month. Indeed, while the tail risks that have dogged global risk until early February have receded, credit investors may begin to fret about more mundane risks, like excessive supply in primary markets and insufficient new issue premiums, which could hinder credit spread performance," he concludes.