The key to unlocking value in high yield bonds

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The market value of the US and European high yield markets has doubled and tripled respectively over the last decade. This is partly because, since the global financial crisis, fewer corporates have been able to receive financing from banks and have turned to non-bank alternatives (such as bonds) instead.

While we believe a nuanced approach to investing in high yield bonds can be beneficial we also view it as a specialist investment area and demanding substantial skill and resource.

Understanding a company’s business profile is one way of mitigating some of the risks associated with investing in the asset class – but to do so requires extensive SWOT analysis and competitor reviews. Free cash flow is one way of determining the issuer’s financial viability. Most companies, both IG and HY do not generate sufficient cash to repay bond debt. HY companies have a greater emphasis on generating free cash flow and this provides a path to refinancing and overall credit quality improvement. The ability for the company to call (redeem early) or not call its bond can also directly impact its value.

At the same time, the terms and conditions regarding a high yield bond can be complicated and term sheets are frequently several hundreds of pages long. They include details regarding structural protections such as seniority (the bond’s priority in the capital structure), security against company assets and debt covenants. The latter can help ensure a bond’s credit quality is not compromised by company management.

A company’s liquidity is another crucial determinant of its ability to repay. When investment grade companies have no cash available to repay the bond’s principal, they can usually draw on a revolving credit facility. However, high yield companies will not typically have a facility that is large enough. Furthermore, for high yield companies the facility is typically secured against inventories, further blocking available sources of liquidity.

Uli Gerhard – Insight, a BNY Mellon company

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