Volatility Continues to Rule Bond Markets

Despite company fundamentals supporting spread levels, the impact of interest-rate and equity-market moves is again being felt in the corporate bond market

Dave Sekera, CFA 19 June, 2013 | 1:46PM
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Global equity markets experienced significant volatility last week, particularly in Japan after the Bank of Japan disappointed investors by not taking additional steps to boost the economy. This resulted in a drop of 6.4% for the Nikkei followed by a rebound of 1.9%. The S&P 500 also experienced intraweek volatility, at one point trading down more than 2% from last week's close before rallying, then fading once again to end the week down just over 1%. With concern beginning to spread about the liquidity crisis in Chinese banks, equity investors, like fixed-income investors, are increasingly focused on whether global central banks will continue to provide the monetary stimulus that underpinned the global rally in risk assets.

Volatility also continued in the US as markets responded to data and central bank commentary. The positive tone set in the previous week by the US May employment data carried over into last Monday, when Standard & Poor's raised its outlook on its US credit rating to stable from negative. The encouraging economic data continued during the week, with several better-than-expected reports buoying sentiment. 

The mix of economic data drove yields on the 10-Year Treasury higher, then lower; they eventually finished the week close to unchanged as market participants assessed the path of future Federal Reserve policy. While the 15-basis-point yield range experienced during the week pales in comparison with the rapid move higher in yield seen in May, it serves to highlight the continuing uncertainty in the interest-rate markets. In addition, this week saw several high-profile market pundits offer their opinion about when the Fed will begin tapering its asset purchases. With both sides of the discussion strongly argued, the market is looking for any hints about the Fed's intent when the statement from the two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting is released later today.

The impact of interest-rate and equity market moves was again felt in the corporate bond market despite the fact that company fundamentals remain supportive of spread levels. Although the Morningstar Corporate Bond Index was just 5 basis points wider on the week, compared with 9 basis points last week, heightened uncertainty constrained the new issue market. The dollar volume of new debt issued by companies in Morningstar's coverage universe declined more than 50% compared with last week. We note that increasing volume of new issuance typically coincides with spread tightening. The high-yield market remained under pressure this week following the record weekly outflow of $1.8 billion from high-yield mutual funds that was reported for the week ending June 7. Amid reports from high-yield traders of reduced liquidity and widening bid/ask spreads, we believe that the asset class will remain susceptible to further price declines until a new incremental buyer enters the market to fill the void left by retreating retail investors.

We continue to view the corporate bond market as fairly valued, but we believe the near-term direction of spreads will be positively correlated to interest-rate and equity-market moves. 

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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Dave Sekera, CFA  is a senior securities analyst with Morningstar.