Credit Conditions and the Fed: Part 2
ICE BofA US High Yield Index Option-Adjusted Spread FRED:BAMLH0A0HYM2
In part 2 I take a quick look at high yield corporates and describe a common mistake made in using ETF ratios to monitor changes in credit risk. Part one and an earlier piece that described how to use the TradingView platform to monitor secondary market credit spreads are linked below.
If there is any one thing that will produce a Fed policy a pivot , it is credit distress. Credit is far more vital to economic functionality than equity. If companies are unable to secure funding, they may face liquidity issues, and if liquidity problems become widespread, they have the potential to become systemic. In 2008 and again in 2020 credit markets were frozen. Particularly in 2008, many companies ran into barriers that inhibited their conducting their ongoing daily business lines. There were plenty of offers but, as I so painfully remember, in many cases zero bids…. None…at any price. It was this credit distress that convinced the Fed to move.
In part 1 we looked at the weekly chart of the option adjusted spread (OAS) of the broad ICE BofA Corporate Index and concluded that the there is no evidence of the kind of credit distress that would galvanize the Fed, and that, at least on this basis, that there was no compelling value (rich/cheap) argument to be made.
What of high yield? Does high yield OAS suggest a meaningful deterioration in credit markets? Again, I plot a regression mean and one and two standard deviation bands above and below. Just as in the IG market, high yield OAS has widened, but only to its long term mean, and this following a lengthy period of being nearly a standard deviation rich. In short, while spreads have widened somewhat, there is no compelling rich/cheap argument and certainly nothing that would suggest to the Fed that credit conditions are meaningfully impaired.
I frequently see commentaries that use price changes in the high yield ETF ( HYG ) and the investment grade ETF (LQD) as a measure of investor risk preference. Since the January high, LQD is down 26.15% versus 19.65% for high yield. At first glance it appears as if investors prefer the lower quality HYG . But the price changes do not account for the differences in fund duration. Put simply, LQD at 8.36 years duration has roughly twice the interest sensitivity of HYG at 4.06 years. In other words, a 100 bps change in rate, will change LQD 8.36% and HYG 4.06%.
LQD in Ratio with HYG and Ten Year Futures in Ratio to Five Year Futures: I also see analysis that uses the ratio between LQD and HYG to ascertain risk preference. But the direction of the ratio is almost completely due to the difference in duration. You can see this by compare LQD / HYG to the ratio between ten year and five year note futures . LQD / HYG ratio is almost entirely correlated with changes between five and ten year treasuries. When rates are volatile and directional the total return of many rate products generally a reflection of rates than it is investor quality preference.
And finally, many of the topics and techniques discussed in this post are part of the CMT Associations Chartered Market Technician’s curriculum.
Stewart Taylor, CMT
Chartered Market Technician
Taylor Financial Communications
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