Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 2, 2022

Credit: The ‘Income’ is Back in Fixed Income

Transcript

Andrew Sheets Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Morgan Stanley's Chief Cross-Asset Strategist.

Vishy Tirupattur: And I am Vishy Tirupattur, Global Director of Fixed Income Research.

Andrew Sheets: And today on the podcast, we'll be talking about the challenges facing credit markets. It's Monday, May 2nd at 1 p.m. in London.

Vishy Tirupattur: And 8 a.m. in New York.

Andrew Sheets: So Vishy, it's great to have you back on the show because I really wanted to speak to you about what's been happening in credit markets. There's been a lot of volatility across the whole financial landscape, but that's been particularly acute in fixed income and we've seen some large moves in credit. So maybe before we get into the rest of the discussion, let's just level set with what's been happening year to date across credit.

Vishy Tirupattur: It's been a really rough ride to credit investors. Investment grade returns are down 12% for the year and for high yield investors are down 6% for the year and leveraged loan markets are up slightly, 1.4% up for the year. So pretty dramatic differences across different segments of the credit markets. Higher quality has significantly underperformed lower quality.

Andrew Sheets: So Vishy where I think this is also interesting is that investors in other asset classes often really look to credit as both a warning sign potentially to other markets and as an overall indicator in the health of the economy, so when you think about what's been driving the credit weakness, you know, how much of it is a economic concern story? How much of it is an interest rate story? How much of it is other things?

Vishy Tirupattur: Andrew, we should always remember that the total returns to bond investors come from two parts. There's an interest rate component and there is a credit quality component. And what has driven the markets thus far in the year is really higher interest rates. As you know, Andrew, interest rates have dramatically increased from the beginning of the year to now, and a lot of expectations of future interest rates is already reflected in price. Those higher interest rate expectations have really contributed to the underperformance of the higher quality bonds, which tend to be a lot more interest rate sensitive than the lower quality bonds. The lower quality bonds tend to be a lot more sensitive to perceptions of the quality of the credit, as opposed to the level of interest rates. And that is really what explains the market moment thus far.

Andrew Sheets: So Vishy, after such a tough start to the year for credit, do you think those challenges persist and do you think we see the same pattern of performance, of investment grade underperforming high yield which is underperforming loans, translate over the rest of the year?

Vishy Tirupattur: Andrew I think that is a change that is afoot here. A pretty aggressive rate of interest rate hikes is already priced into the interest rate market. Even though investment grade returns have been affected negatively, predominantly by higher level of interest rates, going forward we think that is changing. I think we are going to see changes in the expectations of credit worthiness of bonds, the credit risks in the tail parts of the credit markets taking a greater significance in terms of credit market returns going forward.

Andrew Sheets: So in essence, Vishy, we've just had a period where higher quality credit has underperformed as interest rates have been the main factor driving bonds. But looking ahead, that interest rate move is, we think, largely done for the time being, whereas the market might start to focus more on the extra risk premium that needs to be applied for economic risk.

Vishy Tirupattur: Indeed, I think the focus of the credit markets will change from a concern about incrementally higher interest rates to concerns about the quality of the credit markets. So credit concerns are building, the economy is showing signs of downdraft, we saw the negative GDP print. So we think going forward, the market will think about credit quality more than interest rate effects on the total returns.

Andrew Sheets: And Vishy, if investors are looking at this large downdraft in the investment grade market, where do we see the best risk adjusted return within the investment grade credit market?

Vishy Tirupattur: So within the investment grade markets, the back up in rates has really created pockets of value in low dollar price bonds. And this is where we think the best opportunity for investors lies. In the high yield world, we think double B's or triple C's is a good trade.

Andrew Sheets:  The final question I'd ask you that comes up a lot is, what is the outlook for defaults? How are you thinking about forecasting defaults, and are there aspects of the fundamental balance sheet trends of companies today that, you know, seem pretty important as we think about that cycle?

Vishy Tirupattur: I'm glad you asked me that question, Andrew. Even though the economy is weakening a bit and credit concerns are rising a bit, it by no means means we will see a spike in default rates. Default rates are at historically low levels now. Defaults are probably going to rise from here, but not dramatically spike. We expect that defaults will remain below the long term average for some time to come. In fact, if we look at the fundamentals of the credit markets, they have been strongest they have ever been going into a credit cycle.

Vishy Tirupattur: Andrew let me turn it back to you. You know, one can argue that this rise in yields that we have seen from the beginning of the year to now will mean significant changes to fixed income asset allocation. And in fact, makes fixed income asset allocation much more interesting. On your total return focused optimal portfolio, what's the better risk reward proposition in the fixed income markets?

Andrew Sheets: I think it's pretty interesting. You know, if you've been investing in the markets over the last decade you really feel like a broken record when you say that bond yields are low. I mean, bond yields have been low and then they've often kept going lower. So it's pretty notable that in a relatively short period of time, you know, in the last nine months, the yield picture has really changed. And bond prices going down is the way that yields go up, and we've seen the largest drawdown in bond prices since 1980 in the U.S. So that pain is painful to investors, that that drop in prices has hurt portfolios. If there's a silver lining, it means that the yields now on offer are a lot better. So as you mentioned, you know, U.S. investment grade credit yielding 4-4.25%, well that's a whole lot higher than it's been even recently. I think investors after a long drought of a lack of fixed income options, are going to start to come back to the bond market and say, look, this now has a better place in my portfolio. We've been underweight bonds from July of last year and through April 6th of this year. But we've closed that position and we now think the risk reward for bonds is a lot more balanced and investors who were underweight should start adding back.

Vishy Tirupattur: So given the increase in rates, income is back into a fixed income, right?

Andrew Sheets: It exactly is. And again, I think it's also interesting because, you know, investors, I think, no longer have to compromise quite so much between bonds that offer income and bonds that can offer some stability to a portfolio. You know, I think the other thing that's so interesting about the view that that you and our credit strategy team have changed, you know, moving up in quality and credit, moving from a preference of high yield over investment grade to the other way around is, you know, that's a similar signal that we're getting from a lot of our top down cross asset framework tools. When the unemployment rate is this low, when the yield curve is this flat, that tends to be a time when risks to high yield bonds are elevated relative to history. So I think that the bottom up, you know, fundamental view that you and the credit strategy team are talking about fits really well with some of the broader cross asset signals that we're seeing as we look across the global space.

Andrew Sheets: Vishy, thanks for coming back on the show. It's always great to hear your insights.

Vishy Tirupattur:Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Andrew Sheets: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

Credit markets are facing various headwinds, including policy tightening and slowing growth, and credit investors are looking for where they might see the best risk adjusted returns. Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Global Director of Fixed Income Research Vishy Tirupattur discuss.

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