CLOs continued their generally positive recent performance in the fourth quarter of 2022. Total returns for AAA and BBB-rated tranches were 2.5 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively, as credit spreads moved 30–40 basis points tighter for AAA–A tranches and 50 basis points tighter for BBB–BB tranches. CLO new issuance was a robust $130 billion in 2022, with issuance tapering to $8 billion per month in the fourth quarter. Issuance, which has been dominated by more established managers, was met with lower demand from core U.S. bank investors but saw rising demand from asset managers and insurance companies seeking opportunities to move up in quality without extending duration. Fundamental concerns over CLOs are rising, however, as B-rated loan exposures rose to 30 percent of CLO collateral pools in the fourth quarter, compared to 20 percent in 2019 and 10 percent in 2016. Downgrades and defaults of these loans in a recessionary environment could put pressure on CLO performance tests and junior tranche prices. We favor investing in higher quality AAA–A CLO tranches where valuations are favorable relative to the risk of principal loss or downgrade.
The ICE BAML AA–BBB U.S. Fixed Rate Asset Backed Index delivered a total return of 0.49 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022. In esoteric ABS, credit spreads widened by 50–85 basis points at the beginning of the quarter before narrowing and ending the quarter 30–40 basis points wider. As rates rose, issuance steadily declined during the quarter, with December’s volume totaling just $5 billion versus a 2022 monthly average of $20 billion. This resulted in fourth quarter issuance ending 25.1 percent lower than in the comparable quarter in 2021. Total ABS (ex CLO) issuance for 2022 came in 8.8 percent lower than 2021 due to higher all-in financing costs for issuers. Utility issuers were a relative bright spot, as they tapped seldomly used ABS financing structures, including long duration AAA-rated tranches secured by ratepayer accounts, to pay for extraordinary costs related to natural disasters and grid updates. Other traditionally steady sources of esoteric ABS supply including container, whole business, and data center ABS, saw issuance decline, with some major whole business and net lease ABS issuers marketing but then pulling deals in hopes of a better financing environment. Next year should look different, as a build-up in container, net lease, and data center assets financed via warehouse facilities or construction loans should support securitized product issuance.
Credit fundamentals remain sound across the majority of commercial ABS asset types, and the sector continues to offer discounted dollar prices and higher spreads versus similarly rated corporate credit alternatives. We remain vigilant for potential roll-over risk as higher interest rates could pressure future asset values and debt coverage parameters on certain deals.
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This material contains opinions of the authors, but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners, LLC or its subsidiaries. The opinions contained herein are subject to change without notice. Forward-looking statements, estimates, and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary and non-proprietary research and other sources. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but are not assured as to accuracy. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is neither representation nor warranty as to the current accuracy of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information.
Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Investments in fixed-income instruments are subject to the possibility that interest rates could rise, causing their values to decline. High-yield and unrated debt securities are at a greater risk of default than investment grade bonds and may be less liquid, which may increase volatility. Investors in asset-backed securities, including mortgage-backed securities and collateralized loan obligations (“CLOs”), generally receive payments that are part interest and part return of principal. These payments may vary based on the rate loans are repaid. Some asset-backed securities may have structures that make their reaction to interest rates and other factors difficult to predict, making their prices volatile and they are subject to liquidity and valuation risk. CLOs bear similar risks to investing in loans directly, such as credit, interest rate, counterparty, prepayment, liquidity, and valuation risks. Loans are often below investment grade, may be unrated, and typically offer a fixed or floating interest rate.
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