Pimco Wary on Junk Debt in Asia as Slowdown Hurts Profits
Investors should be wary of high-yield borrowers as slowing growth in Asia threatens profitability, according to Pacific Investment Management Co., manager of the world’s biggest fixed-income fund.
Companies in Asia outside Japan almost tripled junk bond sales to $19.2 billion this year compared with $6.85 billion during the same period in 2012, data compiled by Bloomberg show. China’s economy will slow to average 6 percent to 7.5 percent annual expansion during the next five years from 9 percent the past five, weighing on the region’s growth, according to a report from Newport Beach, California-based Pimco.
“The slow-growth landscape favors higher-quality credits and warrants caution on higher yielding names that could become impaired in an environment where profits will be challenged,” Tokyo-based Tomoya Masanao, the head of portfolio management for Japan, wrote in the report due for release today. “The emphasis should move away from risk assets that have benefited purely from the central bank liquidity wave in which valuations have become detached from fundamentals.”
Investors redeemed more than $6 billion from high-yield bond funds in the week to June 5 and fixed-income funds posted their biggest weekly outflows on record amid speculation the Federal Reserve may slow asset purchases, which have fueled flows into emerging markets, data from EPFR Global show.
Treasuries are “the place to be,” Bill Gross, Pimco’s co-chief investment officer, said June 6, after raising holdings of U.S. government debt in his Pimco Total Return Fund (PTTRX) to 39 percent as of April 30, the highest level since July 2010. Gross predicted the three-decade bull market in bonds probably ended at the end of April.
Yields on speculative-grade notes from companies in emerging markets in Asia fell to an all-time low of 6.38 percent last month, helping to boost issuance, before surging to 7.51 percent as of June 10, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes.
High-yield bonds, also known as non-investment grade, speculative-grade or junk, hold ratings lower than BBB- from Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings Ltd., or the equivalent Baa3 from Moody’s Investors Service.
The cost of insuring corporate and sovereign bonds in Asia against non-payment surged to the highest since September today, according to traders of credit-default swaps.
The Markit iTraxx Asia index of 40 investment-grade borrowers outside Japan advanced 15 basis points to 142 basis points as of 4:08 p.m. in Hong Kong, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc prices show. The gauge, which increased 9 basis points last month, is set for its highest close since Sept. 26 and its biggest one-day gain since Sept. 20, according to data provider CMA.
The Bank of Japan today refrained from extending the length of loans it uses to smooth bond market volatility, according to a policy statement in Tokyo. Twenty of 23 analysts in a Bloomberg News survey forecast the BOJ would approve loans of two years or longer, or said that such a move was possible.
“The Bank of Japan is finally joining the hyperactive monetary policy experiment,” Masanao said. “Initial responses in asset markets have been quite positive and the near-term growth outlook has become hopeful. However the sustainability of these gains will depend on the implementation of structural policy reforms.”
Bharti Airtel Ltd. (BHARTI), the second-largest issuer of junk notes in the U.S. currency in Asia this year, missed analyst estimates last quarter as net income plunged 49 percent after a weaker rupee raised interest payments and prices for network equipment.
Companies from China and Hong Kong have dominated sales, accounting for 59 percent of the region’s dollar-denominated junk bonds since Dec. 31, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
The amount of high-yield debt in the region outstanding and rated by Moody’s totals about $58 billion versus about $40 billion as at the end of December, the ratings company said in the fifth edition of its Asian High-Yield Compendium, released today. Moody’s rates 126 junk borrowers in 28 industry groupings across 14 countries in Asia, including Australia.
Net exports and investment that previously fueled China’s growth are reaching their limits, according to Pimco’s report.
“Prospects for export-led growth are inhibited by China’s large size in a global marketplace that remains deficient in aggregate demand due to high indebtedness in the developed world,” Ramin Toloui, Pimco’s global co-head of emerging-markets portfolio management, said in the report. “Investment cannot play its previous role in driving growth because it’s already risen to almost 50 percent of gross domestic product, up from 35 percent in 2000.”
Lending in China is also having less of an impact, with each $1 of new credit generating about 20 cents on average of GDP, versus 60 cents before the financial crisis, according to the report.
“China’s economy needs to shift to greater reliance on household demand,” Toloui said. “Latent demand for not only consumer goods but also services such as health care is likely enormous. However turning that potential into reality requires changes in economic policy that are wide-ranging and difficult.”
In Australia, a “new normal” will arrive, characterized by slower growth as the intensity of Chinese policy stimulus subsides and expansion outside of the South Pacific nation’s mining sector remains subdued.
“This economic backdrop implies a ‘new neutral’ level for policy rates, which we believe should be lowered from 5.5 percent to about 3 percent, which takes into account higher end-borrowing rates, an elevated Australian dollar and lower potential growth rates,” Robert Mead, Pimco’s head of portfolio management in Australia said.
As such, Australian government bonds should be “a relatively attractive asset for high incomes and capital gain potential,” according to Pimco.
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