junk bonds

James Mackintosh

There’s a lot of excitement now junk bond yields (at least on one index) have dropped below 5 per cent for the first time. What to call them, for one thing. “High yield” no longer seems appropriate, although frankly “junk” was always better, and remains just as good. The fact that they barely ever default any longer, suggesting on its face that they are no longer junk, is yet another problem – as John discusses with Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid in today’s Note video.

But hold on a minute. It is true yields have plunged. But the following charts show that junk bonds are much shorter dated now than they were, so the drop in yield is not as dramatic as it looks (if you lend someone money for less time, you should expect a lower yield as the loan is less risky). The average duration on the index is at a record-low three and a half years (modified duration is a tad longer, but still a record low).

Junk bond yield and duration

On the other hand, investment-grade bonds (and top-grade junk too) have longer maturities – in the case of investment grade, the longest since 1980 at more than seven years. So the ultra-low yields (just over 2.5 per cent) of these better-quality bonds are even lower when adjusted for the risk of lending money for longer. Chart-fest after the jump. 

James Mackintosh

Junk bonds are offering close to all-time low yields after a 10 per cent return so far this year. They are the beneficiaries of the same hunt for yield that has driven high-quality high-dividend shares to record highs, and to significant valuation premia.