Ever since the Fed released its tsunami of credit, credit markets have rallied the most since the depth of the Global Financial Crisis. Continued central bank actions have driven the already existing trend toward demand for higher-yielding assets, helping companies issue debt with fewer lender safeguards and covenants. With the Fed willing to support the markets and be the buyer of last resort, credit spreads have tightened since March 2020.
The option-adjusted spread (OAS) of the S&P U.S. Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index and the S&P U.S. High Yield Corporate Bond Index reached a YTD peak on March 23, 2020, while returns hit a low on March 19. Leveraged loans’ spread to Libor, as measured by the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index, topped out at L+980 on March 20.
Multiple Fed actions aimed at calming the markets led to the continued tightening of credit spreads. Though YTD spreads are wider than the beginning of the year for all ratings categories, the indices are substantially tighter since March 31, 2020, and have continued to tighten month-to-date as seen in Exhibit 2. The BBB category and all the high-yield indices have tightened by 150 bps or more, with the riskiest and lowest-rated CCC+ & below having tightened by 353 bps. CCC loans are more than double the CCC+ & below high-yield bonds when it comes to the spread change since March 31, 2020.
Just over these past few days, spreads have generally reversed direction, heading wider. This may be the beginning of a key reversal in the past rally experienced over the past weeks. Investment-grade debt issuance has trailed off, and the messaging from the Fed and economist centers around weakness, unemployment (20.9 million at the end of May 2020), and the heightened possibility of an economic downturn just as cities and states struggle with the questions of how to open up from the quarantine.
Exhibit 6 shows the total rate of return performance for the investment-grade and high-yield indices and the rating and industry subindices.