Junk Bond ETFs Have Rough Two Weeks: Deals Pulled, Outflows Rise

Volatility has returned, at least in the junk bond market. JNK, the Barclays High Yield Bond ETF, and HYG, the iShares High Yield Bond ETF, both had the steepest decline in three months. Is this another buy the dip opportunity, or is risk avoidance about to take hold?

Cracks Widen

Cracks in the red-hot U.S. high-yield bond market are starting to widen, with two junk-rated companies pulling their deals on Friday and U.S.-based high-yield funds suffering their second consecutive week of cash withdrawals.

“Folks have become super negative on risk all of a sudden,” said Greg Peters, managing director and senior portfolio manager at PGIM Fixed Income.

On Friday, coal producer Canyon Consolidated Resources became the second junk-rated company to pull a bond sale this week amid a bout of volatility in credit markets. NRG Energy pulled its junk bond offering on Thursday as spreads across the asset class widened sharply and the two main junk bond ETFs reached seven-month lows.

Bank of America Corp analysts said in a note on Friday that volatility in high-yield has been “driven primarily by a confluence of several meaningful and yet only loosely related events,” including the collapse of the Sprint Corp and T-Mobile U.S. Inc merger, the U.S. Justice Department’s challenges to the AT&T Inc and Time Warner Inc merger, a credit downgrade for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and other industry-specific news along with the potential for tax reform to be delayed.

The analysts also said the flatness of the yield curve has been hurting high yield, partly by hurting bank stocks, which benefit from a steeper yield curve that allows them to borrow cheaply, lend at higher rates and profit from the difference.

JNK Daily

HYG Daily

Another Dip Buying Opportunity?

The declines look meaningful, but if you crunch the numbers, the total decline over the past two weeks is just over one percent. Monthly charts make it appear as if nothing happened at all.

JNK Monthly

HYG Monthly

On a monthly basis, it's hard to label these moves as "dips". Then again are things expected to rise forever?

Yield Curve

Analysts stated "flatness of the yield curve has been hurting high yield."

Starting mid-2016, the ETFs rose 20 out of 23 months with the yield curve flattening throughout 2017.

Volatility Not Started

Volatility has not yet started, despite claims to the contrary.

Is this the start of a meaningful decline?

I do not know, nor does anyone else. But I do suspect that cracks will appear first in the credit markets.

Mike "Mish" shedlock

Instead of looking at the percent of past pullbacks, look at the volume on the monthly charts. Out of the 2009 lows, volume increased. This is definitely confirming momentum of the ETF price rally. The pullback in 2015 was a warning since volume increased with price decline. Investors became genuinely concerned the rally was over as wanted out to lock in profits or minimize losses. In 2016 divergences begin. Price is rising on declining volume. Investors are losing confidence in the health of debt. I'd set my stops at $84 because the price would definitely be below the channel out of the 2016 low. If volume increases like it did in 2015, it's a good indicator junk has started a long term bear market.

Some guy the other day was trying to make the point that the PPT- plunge protection team is much more active than what we have been led to believe. So over the last few years how many times have we seen equity markets sell off 1% or more and end up near the low at the close-I would guess not that many tho a skeptic might say the machines are programmed to buy the dips. Anyway I would still bet if serious cracks anywhere in the credit market begin to really worsen, the PPT will attempt to do whatever it takes to slow down and reverse this process.