Phorgy Phynance

Archive for the ‘High Yield’ Category

The word is out… it’s NOT about subprime

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Whenever I read about “subprime contagion”, I feel frustrated. When you get the flu, does the runny nose cause the muscle aches? No. Just because the runny nose came first doesn’t mean the flu can be described as “runny nose contagion”. The subprime mess was just the first symptom to appear in the bursting of a general credit bubble. The corporate high yield market saw very similar aggressive loan covenants. Commercial real estate. Emerging markets. You name it. We’ve been in the midst of a general fixed-income bubble since our friends at the Fed decided to keep rates far too low for far too long.

Think about this. Back in 2005, we were worried about the CDS market reaching $17 TRILLION notional. That is a HUGE number. But the notional amount is not indicative of overall exposure because of hedging, right?

If you want to see a perfect hedge, visit a Zen garden.

What is that number today? More like $45 TRILLION. That is insane. An entire new insurance industry has basically assumed that corporate defaults do not exist anymore. Not only that, a “hedge” can turn into naked exposure at the flip of a switch, i.e. what happens when the entity you bought insurance from no longer exists?

When I get a chance, I hope to start posting some more mathematical analysis of what’s going on (since that’s what I’m good at). For example, a primer on Leverage Mathematics 101 (which is partially complete) followed by Hedge Mathematics 101 would be a good start. In risk management, “hedging” basically means “let’s buy(sell) some similar securities so that we have more capital to buy other stuff.” In other words, hedging allows you to leverage yourself more.

Here is an article that may help spread the word, i.e. it’s not about subprime:

Straight Talk on the Mortgage Mess from an Insider

However, I would go even further. The truth is the current mess is not even about mortgages. Here is the word we should all be thinking about, “Fixed Income Bubble”.

Written by Eric

December 9, 2007 at 10:16 pm

High yield pipeline gets its first real test

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Even before things in credit markets went completely haywire, there were technical concerns about the building pipeline of new high yield issues that were feeding into CLOs, which were in turn spurring the LBO boom. My own quantitative analysis had shown that high yield was particularly vulnerable going back to September 2006 (which my models were unfortunately only completed in March-April). That is why I was so certain that July 16 would be a big day. That was the day Bear Stearns was to report their hedge fund losses.

I think we all know what happened after that, but I still think not everyone is aware of the huge buildup of high yield issues that have resulted from delays as brokers “hope” things get better. This has created a bifurcation in the primary market (which is essentially non-existent) and the secondary market. Just as holding of CDOs will eventually be forced to face the music, the high yield market will need to face the music and eventually issue some new bonds. That will (in my opinion) bring in a pretty clear “mark to market” in high yield and there very well could be another general repricing.

Apparently, next week is the first real test as First Data issues $24B of debt ($16B in loans and $8B in bonds)

All Eyes Are On First Data
September 10, 2007

If I were a high yield investor (which I’m not, so don’t take my armchair analyst advice too seriously), I would not be eager to get back in just yet. I think things will still get worse before they get better, but like they say “only monkeys pick bottoms”, so I would certainly be shopping for bargains, while keeping in mind that the definition of a “bargain” has changed. For example, the assumption of continued historically low default rates should be discarded imho.

Written by Eric

September 9, 2007 at 12:34 pm

More on credit from NP

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My invitation to move some of the discussion here to avoid flooding the thread “Discount Rate” on NP so far has not been taken advantage of so I just left the following comment:

[From RRP:]First of all, best wishes to your daughter on her birthday. One of the benefits of living in Southern California is close proximity to Disneyland.

Thanks dude. We had a blast. There must have been a “Goth” convention nearby or something because 10% of the people in the park looked like they were straight out of deathrock concert or something. An interesting contrast to Cinderella Smiley

Sorry if I misinterpreted your comments, but things like

“you should do it here, in the phorum instead of running to your blog

“If you weren’t so self congratulatory on all of your “calls” about the market”

“you’re coming across, to me at least, as a dilettante who has never taken a risk position in his life

“this is not some random trash bin on the internet where anyone can say whatever pops into their head and not have to defend it”

“The problem I have with second guessers is that they generally are the last to the party and the first to point out how shitty it is”

do not seem very conducive to a decent conversation. Not only is it grossly inaccurate, but I think we can all do without sheah like that. I really hope that it stops, but if you want to continue, please do so on the blog so that it does not pollute this phorum. I’m more than happy to answer there. It’s not running to the blog. It’s more like trying to filter sheah like that from here.

Like I said in my <tj>, I’m happy to answer to comments here, but just consider that others may not be interested in our tete a tete and think about taking it elsewhere (you know where).

Anyway, so here’s your comment:

Dude, what started me on this thread was some throw away comment you made about Bernanke at least not being as bad as Greenspan. I asked you to elaborate, you responded about how Greenspan would have cut the rate 1% already. My response was to post data that shows the fed reaction in 1998, which I felt to be mos t similar to this crisis; 3 cuts starting 2 months after the onset of the crisis. You countered that 2001 was the best comp to this market, now I didn’t agree with you on that, and I told you why 1998 felt more like this than 2001. If you want to believe that I’m just saying you’re a n00b and should shut up, your perogative. What I’m really meaning to say is that you’re totally lacking perspective in most of your views. Perspective that comes with experience. It is showing plainly.

When you lack direct perspective, the best you can do is to pay attention to others who have perspective. I didn’t post a link to the source of some of my thoughts because I’ve been accused of posting links simply to suport my arguments. WTP. In grad school, I called that citing references, but I guess that doesn’t fly in the real world of old timers.

kr picked up on it. No surprise. I was referring to Roubini’s latest stuff. Sure he is a certified bear and has been for a long time. In fact, he’s so gloomy even I had to unsubscribe from his RSS feed because I couldn’t handle it any more. Just because he’s gloomy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to him once in a while though. He is a super sharp guy and hearing him speak on BBG TV did impress me. He is certainly not a whack job.

Worse than LTCM: Not Just a Liquidity Crisis; Rather a Credit Crisis and Crunch

That is a fantastic article and I agree with him wholeheartedly. When you held up 1998 as a comparison, I was immediately skeptical because it’s in direct contrast to someone else that I think knows his stuff better than either of us.

It really sucks when you compare me to these “second guessers” or those “late to the party”. Have a look at what I wrote here:

Talk about giants: David Richards

I was concerned (for good reason) about credit markets going back to no later than December last year. It wasn’t until the following March-April that I actually had my models built to give some empirical support. I started trying to make a case and practically begged my research directors to let me work with the high yield analysts, but was shot down because of other high-priority projects going on. When Bear Stearns’ HFs imploded things were obvious.

Now, I know I’ve said that at least twice now and some are definitely sick of hearing it, but PLEASE do not think I’m being self congratulatory. I said some things which irritated some people who were probably losing money and then started seeing some baseless judgements coming down on me. I think I’m entitled to stand up and try to set the record straight without these straw man jabs.

There are MANY valid reasons to criticize me, but “self congratulatory”, “second guesser” and certainly “dilettante who has never taken a risk position in his life” are not among them. You yourself named a particularly strong counter example. Yeah, I am %$#%ing scared about my career decision. I left a cushy place working with fantastic people. I had my own plush office with a great view and my own phriggin secretary for Cartan’s sake, but I had my reasons. Now I couldn’t find a post-it note to save my life, but I’ve got a good title with a good company with a significantly better mark to market. We’ll see how I pull through, but one thing I know about myself is that I’m a survivor. I’ve come a long ways from the days of being practically homeless, living in the physics study room and surviving off microwaved potatoes.

Anyway, I hope you are somewhat satisfied with my previous post regarding some of the differences between today and 1998 (which were borrowed heavily from Roubini… no apologies for that). It’s not like subprime mortgages are such a huge part of the markets (they obviously are not) and we’re seeing “contagion”. It’s more like a bunch of sand castles of lax credit standard be swallowed one by one in a rising tide of risk premium. Subprime was the first such sand castle to go. High yield is probably next.

The “I warned you” comment was certainly tongue in cheek, but what happened? The market did shut down, right? It’s good you got those two deals out in July, but where are they trading now? In my opinion, the CDO market is history. Existing (tranched) deals will probably need to be unpackaged into the more vanilla (untranched) structured products from which they were born. Is there any precedent for that? Has a CMO ever gotten deconstructed into its constituent assets? [Not a rhetorical question. I’d like to know.]

Anyway. Wild times. I may be out of a job sooner than you know, but even if that were to happen, I would still think I made the right decision to leave my previous place.

Cheers

Written by Eric

August 19, 2007 at 9:27 pm

More on CDS, implied corporate leverage, and default rates

with 2 comments

The interesting discussion continues over on Nuclear Phynance. Here is my latest:

Hi Cheng,

My opinion on CDS has nothing to do with what is going on in subprime. In my opinion, subprime is just the first “zit” appearing on the face of a pubescent teen’s face who has been eating nothing but junk food for the past 10 years and is about to have a massive breakout.

I’ve heard economists blabber about how strong corporate balance sheets are as they have decreased leverage since 2000-2001, but these same economists have absolutely no clue about CDOs and other avenues for off balance sheet implied leverage. In my opinion, the only thing holding default rates down was the availability of easy credit, not some increased sense of corporate responsibility. I think we will find that most corporations are more highly leveraged than balance sheets would suggest. Now that spreads are widening with a return of risk premium (plus some for good measure), the availability of easy credit, especially in high yield, is quickly disappearing.

A logical next step following reduced easy credit is going to be increased default rates. This I think is going to severely test the CDS market (again nothing to do with subprime), especially when a default occurs on a company whose outstanding CDS protection exceeds the outstanding cash debt by factors of 10 or more. Even if the CDS is not settled physically, the cash needs to come from somewhere. Where will that be? What happens when the person you bought protection from defaults?

Regarding treasuries, close to 50% of all outstanding US government debt is held outside the US.

US financial watchdog says economy at risk from ‘non-ally’ bondholders

David Walker, the US comptroller general, indicated that the huge holdings of American government debt by countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Libya could leave a powerful financial weapon in the hands of countries that may be hostile to US corporate and diplomatic interests.


Mr Walker told The Times that foreign investors have more control over the US economy than Americans, leaving the country in a state that was “financially imprudent”.


He said: “More and more of our debt is held by foreign countries – some of which are our allies and some are not.”


Mr Walker, who heads the Government agency that is responsible for auditing the national accounts and is also the arm of Congress that scrutinis-es spending by the Administration, said that the US has been forced to rely on foreign investors more because Americans are saving so little.


Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not all gloom and doom. There are certainly investment opportunities galore even if what I am preaching does occur. For example, oil is going no where but up. Food prices are going no where but up. Gold is going nowhere but up. Call me crazy, but I think land, i.e. physical land, not necessarily structured paper, is going to go up.

Wild times

Written by Eric

July 26, 2007 at 5:36 am

Bad news from Countrywide

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My favorite blogger, Barry Ritholtz over at The Big Picture, has some great comments on Countrywide’s conference call earlier today.

Countrywide: “Home price depreciation at levels not seen since the Great Depression”

My inaugural post, “The End is Near“, seems to be not too far from the mark 😉

My premonition that high yield bond spread would widen by 200 bps seems to be not so crazy either.

High Yield Spreads Continue Higher

Here’s the article:

High yield spreads measure the difference between the yield on high yield corporate bonds (junk bonds) and US Treasuries. Traditionally, the size of the spread has been inversely correlated to the level of risk aversion among investors. When spreads are low, investors are paying little attention to risk, while high spreads indicate investors are more sensitive to risk.

As we noted last week, spreads in the junk bond market have been widening since the start of June. On June 1st, the spread bottomed at 241 basis points. Since then however, the spread has widened by over 100 basis points to 344, which represents an increase of 43%. Below we highlight the Merrill Lynch High Yield Corporate Bond Spread since 1997 and highlight other spikes in the index.

high_yield_credit_spreads.png

Wild times!

Remember, I’m an optimist 🙂

Written by Eric

July 24, 2007 at 12:35 pm

High yield spreads 200 bps wider

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The title is not a fact, but a premonition 😉

High yield spreads have been out of whack since at least September of last year. Unfortunately, since I’m currently on “garden leave” and no longer have access to data services, I’ll just grab a snapshot from the public page of LehmanLive

ll.jpgI’m still an amateur, but mark my words (as in I’m totally guessing), in the next 30 days the high-yield indices will be wider by no less than 100 bps and could be wider by as much as 200 bps. Bad news for private equity (not to mention high-yield investors).

Written by Eric

July 17, 2007 at 8:15 pm

Posted in High Yield