CAM Investment Grade Weekly Insights
Fund Flows & Issuance: According to Lipper, for the week ended January 11th, investment grade funds posted a net inflow of $4.029bn. The total year-to-date net inflow into investment grade funds ended the week at $6.215bn. Per Bloomberg, investment grade corporate issuance through Thursday was $38.8bn. Thus far, $92.8bn of investment grade corporate bonds have been issued in January, while consensus estimates call for $112bn for the full first month of the year.
(Bloomberg) Teflon Chemical Cases Face Uncertain Fate If Dow, DuPont Merge
- Uncertainty cloaks DuPont Co.’s liability for 3,500 toxic tort lawsuits over a Teflon-related chemical as the company proceeds toward a merger with Dow Chemical Co.
- PFOA has been found in drinking water in West Virginia and Ohio, near the Parkersburg plant. In the first three of those 3,500-plus cases, DuPont lost to residents of that area who claimed DuPont’s PFOA was responsible for their cancer.
- DuPont’s spinoff, Chemours Co., will defend the PFOA cases although DuPont has been the named defendant.
- Tom Claps, litigation analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP, said his company estimates DuPont will be liable for about $550 million for settlement of the current 3,500-plus PFOA cases. Chemours is required to reimburse DuPont for that amount, as the companies agreed in 2015.
- “However, DuPont must write the initial PFOA checks to plaintiffs in these cases, and will then go after Chemours for reimbursement,” Claps said.
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFOA was found in blood serum in 99 percent of the U.S. general population between 1999 and 2012, but that percentage has been decreasing as domestic companies phase out production of the chemical.
- The agency issued a health advisory in 2016 limiting PFOA exposure to 0.07 parts per billion after studies in test animals showed the chemical has adverse health effects, including cancers and impacts on development and the immune system.
(Moody’s, CAM notes) Constellation Brands Raised to Investment Grade by Moody’s
- The rating upgrade reflects Constellation’s strong brand portfolio and favorable category trends, and its commitment to manage its net debt/EBITDA leverage to around 3.5x compared to a historical targeted range of 3x to 4x.
- Moody’s expects that Constellation will maintain strong liquidity, characterized by over $1.4 billion in annual operating cash flow and $1.15 billion in revolving credit facilities with substantial borrowing availability.
- With this Moody’s upgrade, Constellation is now rated investment grade by all three rating agencies.
(Bloomberg) ‘End of Covenants’ Sparks Revolt Over Erosion of Bond Safeguards
- The first time Adam Cohen’s Covenant Review sounded the alarm in October about a new passage creeping into bond offerings, it described the junk-rated deal from Rackspace Hosting Inc. as “outrageous” and “unprecedented.” Investors bought it anyway.
- To Cohen, it seemed no one was paying attention to the fine print. So he blasted out a report titled “The End of Covenants,” ultimately fingering 18 deals with the disputed passage.
- “I had to do something dire,” said Cohen, founder and chief executive officer of his New York-based firm. “By sending out something with the ridiculous title of ‘The End of Covenants,’ people figured out, ‘Wait, something’s going on here.’”
- Bonds typically come with a lengthy array of standard covenants that protect bondholders by requiring company managers to maintain certain financial ratios, limit asset sales and meet certain deadlines. If they don’t, it can be deemed a voluntary default that entitles bondholders to penalty payments. The “no premium on default” passage casts doubt on those payments, according to Cohen’s firm.
- Such language may be less jarring to junk-bond owners, who accept more risk and allow corporate managers more leeway in return for higher yields. Mainstream investors weren’t so forgiving.
- Chatter about the covenants spread through buy-side e-mail chains and chatrooms Monday and Tuesday, with some investors urging others to contact banks to oppose the language.
- The firestorm that erupted by the middle of this week pushed issuers including Marsh & McLennan, GM and Broadcom Ltd. to drop the idea. The report had struck a nerve with buyers of high-grade bonds, who already have fewer protections and aren’t eager to go down the path that led to five years of eroding protection for junk-bond covenants, as tracked by Moody’s Investors Service.