Lost in the flurry of reports about companies and countries struggling to raise cash is the idea that maybe it’s not such a bad thing.
Investors are finally showing restraint and skepticism after years of buying almost any bond that companies would sell them. This may be unfortunate and challenging for specific companies. But it’s an important sign that credit markets are returning to some degree of normalcy after years of irrational exuberance driven by unprecedented central bank policies.
Argentina, which is still feeling the effects of its years-long debt crisis, is struggling to lure bond buyers. Petroleo Brasileiro, the state-controlled oil producer facing both low crude prices and an investigation into a suspected kickback scheme, canceled a plan to sell local bonds. Some smaller junk-rated companies in the U.S. are also facing an uphill battle when they try to raise cash.
It’s not as if investors have abandoned high-yield bonds altogether. They piled $1.3 billion into such funds last week, according to data compiled by Wells Fargo analysts. Bond buyers are just being more selective, sifting through the pile, aware of the fact that risky bonds are actually risky.
This is why yields on U.S. high-yield bonds have swelled to 7.9 percent, from as low as 5.7 percent in June 2014. This debt is starting to look attractive to some longtime, experienced investors, including Blackstone, one of the world’s biggest distressed-debt investors.
“The recent increase in spreads combined with the lack of liquidity in high yield generally means greater opportunity to deploy our $17 billion in dry powder, which includes new dedicated energy and direct lending funds,” Stephen Schwarzman, the firm’s chief executive, said in an earnings call this week.
U.S. junk debt has gained 1.9 percent so far this month, with higher-ranked notes returning substantially more than the lowest-rated ones.
The fact that some companies are finding it more difficult to borrow is as it should be. The dose of reality is healthy for these markets, which are finally coming back to their senses.
(This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of
Bloomberg LP and its owners.)