Needed: Cushion in the Coupon

October 11, 2018

10-year Treasury Yields; Source: Bloomberg 10-year Treasury Yields; Source: Bloomberg

The long-awaited rise in Treasury rates finally appears at hand. From January through September of this year, 10-year Treasury rates had quietly backed up about 40 basis points (bps), but the additional 30-plus bps rise since September has been more abrupt and initiated a new round of debates and interpretations regarding its rise. We have seen multiple head fakes over the past few years, but it appears an inflection point has been reached in the domestic economy with GDP breaching 4%, labor markets tightening to levels not seen in nearly 50 years and corporate revenue and earnings growing materially. Other factors may be contributing to higher rates, however, such as looming Treasury supply and expectations for the end of quantitative easing by the European Central Bank. 

Fixed income returns have been negative all year, with the exception of high yield and certain floating-rate asset classes. Within high yield, lower quality credit has outperformed high quality; as is typical in a rising rate environment driven by broad-based growth. Two ways to potentially mitigate interest rate risk in dedicated high yield strategies include adding floating-rate loans and high coupon, short/intermediate maturities into the portfolio. Both offer coupon cushion should rates continue to rise, while adding a manageable amount of credit risk. While I remain constructive on credit given business fundamentals and low expected default rates, I am wary of reaching too much given current valuations.


Key Takeaway

When it comes to cushioning the pain from higher rates in high yield portfolios, my current preference is for high coupon shorter maturity bonds, as opposed to floating-rate leveraged loans. This is due to the fact that floating-rate leveraged loans have relatively tight spreads, limited covenant protection and the potential for more challenging liquidity over the next few years given the rapid increase in market size. Relatively short maturity high coupon paper in issuers that, in my estimation, have adequate refinancing options in any market environment represent a good way to balance portfolio duration. 


Tags: High yield | Treasury rates | 10-Year Treasury | Leveraged Loans

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