For all the market’s consternation over the bank loan sector’s vulnerability to higher interest rates, one feature that may be getting overlooked is the historically attractive coupons that the sector is paying. The leveraged loan average discount margin to maturity is 573 basis points. When added to the three-month secured overnight finance rate (SOFR) of 5.4 percent, the current yield on the loan market based on the Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index was over 11 percent at the end of July. Coupons represent 9 percent of that yield, the highest coupon rate since 2001.
We believe this yield opportunity more than compensates for credit risk, especially for active managers. Our default rate forecast for bank loans is 3.5 percent in 2023 and a range of 5–7 percent in 2024, which means a cumulative default rate from today of 8.5 percent to 10.5 percent by the end of 2024. After applying the long-run trend of 60 percent for the recovery rate assumption, the loss-adjusted yield, assuming constant interest rates, would land between 5.6 and 7.6 percent in this scenario. This is far more attractive than the 4 percent yield on a seven-year Treasury and does not factor asset selection via active management, which should result in a potentially lower portfolio default rate. Floating rate loans also offer duration protection from the risk that the Fed is not quite done with the hiking cycle—a possibly underappreciated risk in an environment in which we have seen resilient economic activity.
While the sector’s yield looks attractive even on a loss-adjusted basis, we still think it is important to monitor the ongoing trend of credit defaults and negative rating migration. The 12-month trailing par-weighted default rate climbed to 1.7 percent as of June 2023, which remains below the historical average of 2.7 percent. The trend of more rating downgrades than upgrades also continued over the last three- and six-month periods, with a downgrade-to-upgrade ratio of 2.4x and 2.5x, respectively. In this environment, it is crucial to look for emerging single-security credit risk since they have been idiosyncratic in nature. Unsustainable leverage ratios, cost pressures, poor balance sheet liquidity, and upcoming maturities have all been among cited reasons for recent defaults across several industries. Some approaches that we take to mitigate this risk include monitoring borrowers’ ability to cover fixed charges, focusing on issuers with pricing power and less margin vulnerability, and keeping a close watch on companies in more labor-intensive sectors such as healthcare, business services, and restaurants that may still be suffering labor shortages and wage inflation.
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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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*Assets under management is as of 6.30.2023 and includes leverage of $15.9bn. Guggenheim Investments represents the following affiliated investment management businesses of Guggenheim Partners, LLC: Guggenheim Partners Investment Management, LLC, Security Investors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Distributors, LLC, Guggenheim Funds Investment Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Corporate Funding, LLC, Guggenheim Partners Advisors, LLC, Guggenheim Partners Europe Limited, Guggenheim Partners Japan Limited, GS GAMMA Advisors, LLC, and Guggenheim Partners India Management. Securities offered through Guggenheim Funds Distributors, LLC.
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