Euro Junk Bonds and “Reverse Yankees” Go Nuts

by Wolf Richter, Wolf Street:

The most obviously lopsided deals.

The ECB’s efforts to buy corporate bonds as part of its stupendous asset buying binge has not only pushed a number of government bond yields below zero, where investors are guaranteed a loss if they hold the bond to maturity, but it has also done a number – perhaps even a bigger one – on the euro junk-bond market.

It has totally gone nuts. Or rather the humans and algorithms that make the buying decisions have gone nuts. The average junk bond yield has dropped to an all-time record low of 2.42%.

Let that sink in for a moment. This average is based on a basket of below investment-grade corporate bonds denominated in euros. Often enough, the issuers are junk-rated American companies with European subsidiaries – in which case these bonds are called “reverse Yankees.”

These bonds include the riskiest bonds out there. Plenty of them will default, and losses will be painful, and investors – these humans and algos – know this too. This is not a secret. That’s why these bonds are rated below investment grade. But these buyers don’t mind. They’re institutional investors managing other people’s money, and they don’t need to mind.

It’s perfectly good to invest in risky instruments as long as you’re being paid to take those risks or have a chance to make serious money. If you buy gold and silver bullion, you know you could make or lose a lot of money. But at a yield of 2.42%, these junk bonds will never make any money if you hold them to maturity, except for covering mild inflation. The risk of losses – including from default – are large. And investors are not getting paid to take those risks. It’s one of the most obviously lopsided deals out there.

The average yield of these junk bonds never dropped below 5% until October 2013. In the summer of 2012, during the dog days of the debt crisis when Draghi pronounced the magic words that he’d do “whatever it takes,” these bonds yielded about 9%, which might have been about right.

Since then, yields have plunged (data by BofA Merrill Lynch Euro High Yield Index Effective Yield via St. Louis Fed). The “on the Way to Zero” in the chart’s title is only partially tongue-in-cheek:

The chart below gives a little more perspective on this miracle of central-bank market manipulation, going back to 2006. It shows the spike in yield to 25% during the US-engineered Financial Crisis and the comparatively mild uptick in yield during the Eurozone-engineered debt crisis:

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