Thursday, September 24, 2009

Corporate Bonds: From Cheap to Rich

In March I loaded up on both investment grade and high yield bonds (see Are Corporate Bonds a Screaming Buy?) as a long term investment (the key I thought was long term).

Yet by July, I was already beginning to cash out of the positions as I thought they had rebounded too far, too fast. 5% more gains for the investment grade and 20% for the high yield universes gets us to a point where bonds went from CHEAP to what now seems RICH in just about 6 months. Bloomberg details the implications and relative value of bonds to equities:

Stocks offer greater value than bonds and are poised to “catch up” with a rally in corporate debt, according to Rod Smyth, chief investment strategist at Riverfront Investment Group LLC.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows that the difference in yield between corporates and 10-year Treasury notes has narrowed more quickly than the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has risen since March. The yield comparison is based on a Moody’s Investors Service index of Baa-rated debt. Smyth and colleagues Bill Ryder and Ken Liu had a similar chart in a report yesterday.

Since December, the yield gap has fallen to 2.9 percentage points from a peak of 6.2 points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This spread is near its lowest level since January 2008, when the S&P 500 was about 22 percent higher.

“‘Animal spirits’ are returning to Wall Street even if they are still suppressed on Main Street,” the report said. Spreads have narrowed so much that stocks have more room to rise than bonds, especially as earnings increase, it added.

Smyth isn’t the only strategist whose focus has shifted to shares. “Equities no longer look expensive relative to corporate bonds,” Andrew Garthwaite, a global strategist at Credit Suisse AG, wrote in a Sept. 18 report. He downgraded credit, or bonds, based on relative value.
While I am much less than bullish (actually bearish) on equities than those quoted in the article, it is suspicious how far high yield has rebounded in 2009 as compared to equities. While those BBB bonds (as detailed in the article) are now up more than 20% YTD, high yield corporate bonds are now up almost 50%.



Source: Barclays