markets

High-Yield Primary Market Set for Repricing After Bumpy Quarter

  • Bond sales in Europe fell 32 percent in first quarter
  • Investors expect higher premiums for riskier transactions

Potential bond issuers in Europe’s high-yield market may face higher coupon costs to get deals done after a jittery first quarter characterized by negative total returns, continued fund outflows and escalating trade tensions between the world’s top two economies.

"Investors have become more cautious on credit risk and therefore more selective, but appetite for high quality names is still there, just slightly more yield is needed," said Simon Francis, co-head of leveraged finance EMEA at Citigroup Global Markets Ltd.

Corporate bond sales by high-yield issuers slowed by 32 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period last year. A total of 51 tranches priced, driving quarterly issuance to about 18.3 billion euros-equivalent ($22.4 billion), Bloomberg data show. High-yield bond returns have declined to -0.67 percent for the first three months of this year, down from 6.26 percent for the whole of 2017.

High Yield Funds in Europe See Weekly Outflows Continue Unabated

The weaker backdrop has been particularly felt by those executing new issues in recent weeks. Some borrowers such as Corestate Capital Holding SA and Stark Group had to amend deal documentation to find clearing levels while Virgin Media Group sold receivables notes at the wide end of price talk.

"As for pricing of primary issuance from here, the repricing of weak single-B and triple-C risk will likely lead to a higher premium offered for taking higher levels of credit risk," said Mitch Reznick, co-head of credit at Hermes Investment Management.

Down, Not Out

First quarter high-yield issuance volumes

Source: Bloomberg LEAG data

Choosing The Spot

Some higher beta borrowers, namely those rated triple-C, are said to be lining up new deals for the coming weeks. But for now they are taking a "wait and see" approach amid market uncertainty, according to people familiar.

An issuer who has already taken that tack is travel service provider TUI AG, which after holding an investor call earlier in March for a minimum 400 million euro seven-year offering said it will wait for the right market conditions.

After a prolonged period of riskoff sentiment, the next triple-C rated borrower to seek financing will likely be a bellwether for the high-yield primary market. The last such deal to price in Europe was in January when Matalan Finance Plc sold 130 million pounds of second lien secured notes, which are currently marked at 97.5, according to CBBT prices.

"We are likely to see the return of more cuspy names once the market settles down," Hermes’ Reznick said, who added that the recent market weakness "has hit triple-C credit first and we’ve seen those higher beta names underperform."

Jumbo M&A deals are expected to provide another driver of issuance in Europe’s high-yield market in the second quarter. The pipeline of M&A-linked bond transactions currently includes:

Relative Returns

With high-yield returns turning negative, a more selective approach to buying new paper may be adopted from some fund managers in a bid to avoid swallowing major losses.

"I would still expect high yield to end 2018 with a 2-3 percent positive return so the rest of the year will be all about achieving carry rather than any huge spread tightening," Azhar Hussain, head of global high yield at Royal London Asset Management, said in an interview.

"With such a muted return objective avoiding the credit landmines will be even more important this year," Hussain added.

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