Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Feb 8, 2024

Trends in the 2024 Credit Landscape

With Vishy Tirupattur and David Miller


Vishy Tirupattur: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I am Vishy Tirupattur, Chief Fixed Income Strategist in Morgan Stanley Research.

David Miller: And I'm David Miller, Head of Global Private Credit and Equity for Morgan Stanley Investment Management.

Vishy Tirupattur: And on the special edition of the podcast, we'll be taking a deep dive into the 2024 credit landscape, both from a private credit and public credit perspective.

Vishy Tirupattur: So, David, you and I come at credit from two different avenues and roles. I cover credit, other areas of fixed income, from a sell side research perspective, and you work for our investment management division, covering both private credit and private equity. Just to set the table for our listeners, maybe we could start off by you telling listeners how private credit investing differs from public credit.

David Miller: Great. The main differences are: First, privately negotiated loans between lenders and borrowers. They're typically closely held versus widely distributed in public credit. The loans are typically held to maturity and those strategies are typically has that long duration, sort of look. Private credit -- really -- has three things of why their borrowers are valuing it. Certainty, that's committed capital; certainty of pricing. There's speed. There's no ratings -- fewer parties, working on deals. And then flexibility -- structures can be created, to meet the needs of borrowers versus more highly standardized parts of the public credit spectrum. Lastly and importantly, you typically get an illiquidity premium in private credit for that holding to maturity and not being able to trade.

Vishy Tirupattur: So, as we look forward to 2024, from your perspective, David, what would you say are some of the trends in private credit?

David Miller: So private credit, broadly speaking, continues to grow -- because of bank regulations, volatility in capital markets. And it is taking some share over the past couple of years from the broadly syndicated markets. The deal structures are quite strong, with large equity contributions -- given rates have gone up and leverage has come down. Higher quality businesses typically are represented, simply as private equity is the main driver here and there tend to be selling their better businesses. And default rates remain reasonably low. Although we're clearly seeing some pressure, on interest coverage, overall. But volumes are starting to pick up and we're seeing pipelines grow into [20]24 here.

Vishy Tirupattur: So obviously, it's interesting, David, that you brought up, interest rates. You know, it's a big conversation right now about the timing of the potential interest rate cuts. But then we also have to keep in mind that we have come through nearly two years of interest rate hikes. How have these 550 basis points of rate hikes impacted the private credit market?

David Miller: The rate hikes have generally been positive. But there are some caveats to that. Obviously, the absolute return in the asset class has gone up significantly. So that's a strong positive, for the new deals. The flip side is -- transaction volumes have come down in the private credit market. Still okay but not at peak levels. Now older deals, right, particularly ones from 2021 when rates were very low -- you're seeing some pressure there, no doubt. The last thing I will say, what's noteworthy from the increase in rates is a much bigger demand for what I'll call capital solutions. And that's junior capital, any type of security that has pick or structure to alleviate some of that pressure. And we're quite excited about that opportunity.

Vishy Tirupattur: David, what sectors and businesses do you particularly like for private credit? And conversely, what are the sectors and businesses you'd like to avoid?

David Miller: Firstly, we really like recurring or re-occurring revenue businesses with stable and growing cash flows through the cycle, low capital intensity, and often in consolidating industries. That allows us to grow with our borrowers over time. You know, certain sectors we continue to like: insurance brokerage, residential services, high quality software businesses that have recurring contracts, and some parts of the healthcare spectrum that really focus on reducing costs and increasing efficiency. The flip side, cyclicals. Any type of retail, restaurants, energy, materials, that are deeply cyclical, capital intensive and have limited pricing power and high concentration of customers.

So, now I get to ask some questions. So, Vishy, I'd love to turn it to you. How do returns, spreads, and yields in private credit compare to the public credit markets?

Vishy Tirupattur: So, David, yields and spreads in private credit markets have been consistently higher relative to the broadly syndicated loan market for the last six or seven years -- for which we have decent data on. You know, likely reflecting, as you mentioned earlier, illiquidity premia and perhaps potentially investor perception of the underlying credit quality. The basis in yields and spreads between the two markets has narrowed somewhat over the last couple of years. Between 2014 and the first half of 2023, private credit, on average, generated higher returns and recorded less volatility relative to the broadly syndicated loan market. For example, since the third quarter of 2014, the private credit market measured, realized negative total returns just in one quarter. And you compare that to eight quarters of negative returns on the broadly syndicated loan market.

David Miller: Something we both encounter is the idea of covenants -- which simply put, are additional terms on lending agreements around cash flow, leverage, liquidity. How do covenants help investors of private credit?

Vishy Tirupattur: Over the last several years, the one thing that stands out in the public credit markets -- especially in the leveraged loan market -- is the loosening of the covenant protection to lenders. Cov-Lite, which means, nearly no maintenance covenants, has effectively become the norm in the broadly syndicated loan market. This is one place that I think private credit markets really stand out. In our view, covenant quality is meaningfully better in private credit. This is mainly because given the much smaller number of lenders in typical private credit deals, private credit has demonstrably stronger loan documentation and creditor protections. Maintenance covenants are typically included. And to a great extent, these covenant breaches could act potentially as circuit breakers to better manage outcomes, you know, as credit gets weaker.

David, we also hear a lot about the risk of defaults, in private credit markets. How much concern do you have around defaults?

David Miller: We are watching, obviously stress on credits and the default rates overall, and they are at historically quite low levels. We do expect them to tick up over time. But there are some reasons why we clearly like private credit from that perspective. First, as mentioned, the covenant protections typically are a little better. If you look historically, depending on the data, private credit, default rates have been, somewhat lower than public leveraged credit and its been quite a resilient asset class, for a number of reasons. We like the amount of private equity dry powder that sits waiting to support some of the companies that are underperforming. And it's important to remember that private credit lenders typically have an easier time resolving some of these stresses and workouts given that they're quite bilateral or a very small group, to make decisions and reach those negotiated settlements. So overall, we feel like there will be a category of businesses that are underperforming and are in structural decline and that will default. But that number will be still very low relative to the universe of overall private credit.

Vishy Tirupattur: So David, it’s been great speaking with you.

David Miller: Thanks for having me on the podcast, Vishy.

Vishy Tirupattur: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

Our credit experts from Research and Investment Management give their overview of private and public credit markets, comparing their strengths and weaknesses following two years of rate hikes.