Friday, February 19, 2016

How Financial Chaos Begins....CREDIT

How Financial Chaos Begins....CREDIT

There are over $1.8 trillion of US junk bonds outstanding. It's the lifeblood of over-indebted corporate America. When yields began to soar over a year ago, and liquidity began to dry up at the bottom of the scale, it was "contained."

Yet contagion has spread from energy, metals, and mining to other industries and up the scale. According to UBS, about $1 trillion of these junk bonds are now "stressed" or "distressed." And the entire corporate bond market, which is far larger than the stock market, is getting antsy.

The average yield of CCC or lower-rated junk bonds hit the 20% mark a week ago. The last time yields had jumped to that level was on September 20, 2008, in the panic after the Lehman bankruptcy. Today, that average yield is nearly 22%!

Today even the average yield spread between those bonds and US Treasuries has breached the 20% mark. Last time this happened was on October 6, 2008, during the post-Lehman panic.

At this cost of capital, companies can no longer borrow. Since they're cash-flow negative, they'll run out of liquidity sooner or later. When that happens, defaults jump, which blows out spreads even further, which is what happened during the Financial Crisis. The market seizes. Financial chaos ensues.

Retail investors are catching on. Over the past three sessions alone, they pulled $488 million out of the largest high-yield ETF, the iShares HYG, which on Thursday closed at 75.59, down 21% from its high in June 2014, and the lowest level since May 2009.

On a broader scale, investors yanked $5.6 billion out of that asset class in January, the fourth month in a row of outflows.

All grades of junk bonds have been losing ground: the S&P High-Yield Index is down 3.9% year-to-date. But it's in the CCC-and-lower category where real bloodletting is occurring.

This chart shows the return from interest payments and price changes of that category. Since June 2014, the index has lost 28%. During the panic of the Financial Crisis, it plunged 48%. But now the volume of junk bonds outstanding is twice as large and the credit bubble is far bigger than it had been before the Financial Crisis. So this might just be the beginning:

It's not just energy. The category includes all kinds of companies, among them brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants, hit hard by excessive debt, slack demand, consumer preference for online shopping, and other scourges. Unlike oil and gas drillers, these companies have no assets to sell. 

Standard & Poor's believes these trends will accelerate in the coming year and lead to further retail defaults. WHICH WILL LEAD TO MORE PRESSURE ON BANKS, MORE UNEMPLOYMENT, MORE EMPTY COMMERCIAL SPACE, ETC., ETC., IT IS A VICIOUS CYCLE.

S&P now expects the overall default rate to reach 3.9% by the end of 2016. But it may be the rosy scenario; last March, S&P still thought the default rate at the end of 2016 would be 2.8%. Credits are deteriorating fast.

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