Over the past 20 years, the share of outstanding corporate bonds rated BBB, the lowest investment-grade rating, has more than doubled. This has left a large volume of securities on the edge of a cliff, from which they could drop to a high-yield rating and become so-called ‘fallen angels’. Some investors may be forced to sell ‘fallen angels’, for example if their mandate prevents them from holding high-yield bonds. And this selling pressure could push bond prices down, beyond levels consistent with the downgrade news. In this post we explore the impact that sales of ‘fallen angels’ could have on market functioning, finding that they could test the liquidity of the sterling high-yield corporate bond market.
On 16 February 2017, following the release of the ECB’s January meeting accounts, French government bond (OAT) futures experienced a so-called ‘mini flash’, with yields falling 11bps within 85 seconds, in a period of significant illiquidity, before retracing most of the move within eight minutes.
In a previous post I showed that bond and equity returns are negatively correlated, having been positively correlated for most of the 18th-20th centuries. The time series was long (three centuries) and the chart was just for the UK, prompting two very reasonable questions: 1) does your story hold for countries other than the UK? and 2) what’s happened to this correlation recently?
For most of the 18th-20th centuries, government bonds usually behaved like a risky asset. When equity prices fell, bond yields rose, i.e. bond and equity returns were positively correlated (bond prices move inversely to yields). But since the mid-2000s, bond and equity returns have been negatively correlated, i.e. bonds became a hedge for risk. Before this, the last time this correlation was near zero for a prolonged period was the long depression in the late 19th century.