Friday, July 31, 2009

Corporate Bond Rally May Stall Now

Today high-rated corporate bonds are trading just barely above government guaranteed bonds.

Yesterday we got a glimpse through Seeking Alpha just how far we've come in the last year.

At least at the top end of the rating scale, there's hardly room for any more contraction in spreads. The long term prospects for high-rated corporate bonds doesn't look good unless in fact Bernanke can actually overcome the forces of monetarism and keep real inflation at historical lows.

The best bet in bonds is the lower grade issues at this point. If high-grade rates remain low on a recovering economy from central bank purchase demands, those lower rated investment grade bonds will see continued contraction in spreads as default risk subsides. If high-grade rates rise while the economy recovers, lower rated investment grade bonds may not see declining yields, but contraction in spreads can still produce stable prices and above-inflation yields.

There are two primary risks, one of which is almost ignorable. The first is demise of the global economy, which is most unlikely but theoretically possible. For that scenario you better have backup food supplies, loads of currency (legal and barter) tucked under your mattress, and a plan for wilderness survival. The second is inflation rates rising to the point where low grade bonds fall in value with or without contracting yield spreads. This is much more likely than the former, and highly probably if Governments around the world don't back off their stimulus programs in rapid fashion.

The good news on the inflation story is monetarism reveals this kind of inflation takes 12 to 24 months to find it's way into consumer prices. At that point one will have to switch to inflation investing.

Until then, high yields, contracting spreads, and green shoots are the fundamentals one should be keeping their eyes on, and high yield investment grade bonds provide a tempting opportunity not often available with fundamental support like we have today.

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