Data as of December 31, 2020, unless otherwise noted.
Performance (total returns)
|Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index (Barclays Agg)||0.14%||7.51%|
|ICE BofAML U.S. High Yield Master II Index (HY Bonds)||1.91%||6.17%|
|S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index (Senior Secured Loans)||1.35%||3.12%|
Performance data quoted represents past performance and is no guarantee of future results. An investment cannot be made directly in an index.
Leveraged credit continued its upward march in December: Vaccine-fueled optimism sustained the broad market rally that began in November. HY Bonds and Senior Secured Loans returned 1.91% and 1.35%, respectively, and the yield on HY Bonds hit a record low. The cyclical, reflationary trade continued with the lowest-rated CCC assets leading the charge once again in both markets. On a sector basis, industries that stand to benefit the most from economic normalization and reopening, such as transportation, consumer products and broadcasting, which has exposure to companies that produce live events, were among top performers. High yield bond funds saw slight net outflows in December but, in a reversal of the multiyear trend, senior secured loan funds had four consecutive weeks of inflows. As Treasury rates have edged higher in recent months, demand for floating rate assets has been reignited. On the new issuance side, companies eager to lock in record-low rates continued to issue debt at a swift pace, and full-year HY issuance totaled a record $450 billion. Default rates, which had declined in recent months, ticked up slightly to 6.17% in the HY market and 3.95% for loans. The duration-sensitive Barclays Agg returned 0.14%, as rates were relatively rangebound throughout the month.
Credit proved resilient throughout 2020: Credit markets proved their resiliency once again throughout 2020 as HY Bonds and Senior Secured Loans staged a remarkable recovery – with few setbacks – following the market rout in March. Spreads ended the year only moderately higher than where they began and fundamentals such as default rates, leverage and EBITDA growth, which unsurprisingly have not fully recovered, are trending in the right direction. The question is: Where does credit go from here? A solid economic backdrop, downward trending default rates, the likelihood of widespread vaccine distribution, and continued implicit Federal Reserve support should all create a conducive environment for credit for much of 2021. Plus, though the rally broadened in November, lower-rated assets and those in cyclical sectors such as transportation, broadcasting and energy have still not fully recovered. Structured products present a compelling area of opportunity as well. CLOs returned 3.1% last year but are still trading wide to comparably rated corporate bonds, suggesting potential for further spread compression. Their relatively higher yield also offers an attractive opportunity for income-seeking investors. Still, risks remain. COVID case counts continue to rise, prompting further lockdowns and restrictions, and mass immunization is months away. Active managers with flexible, dynamic strategies will likely be best positioned to navigate the current market and take advantage of any potential near-term volatility.
- Vaccine-fueled optimism drove credit markets steadily higher throughout December.
- HY Bonds returned 1.91% while Senior Secured Loans were up 1.35%.
- The duration-sensitive Barclays Agg returned 0.14% as rates remained relatively rangebound all month.