In the third quarter of 2019, the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index (“Index”) return was 1.33% bringing the year to date (“YTD”) return to 11.41%. The CAM High Yield Composite gross total return for the third quarter was 2.30% bringing the YTD return to 13.61%. The S&P 500 stock index return was 1.70% (including dividends reinvested) for Q3, and the YTD return stands at 20.55%. The 10 year US Treasury rate (“10 year”) spent most of quarter in rally mode save for a 40 basis points backup during the first half of September. The 10 year finished the quarter at 1.66%, down 0.35% from the beginning of the quarter. During the quarter, the Index option adjusted spread (“OAS”) tightened 4 basis points moving from 377 basis points to 373 basis points. There was a massive 210 basis points of widening that took place in Q4 2018 and since that time, the OAS has tightened 153 basis points. During the third quarter, the higher quality segments of the High Yield Market participated in the spread tightening as BB rated securities tightened 12 basis points and B rated securities tightened 15 basis points. The lowest quality segment, CCC rated securities, widened 78 basis points.

The Banking, Insurance, and Brokerage sectors were the best performers during the quarter, posting returns of 3.72%, 3.51%, and 3.10%, respectively. On the other hand, Energy, Basic Industry, and Other Industrial were the worst performing sectors, posting returns of -4.38%, 1.25%, and 1.69%, respectively. At the industry level, life insurance, P&C insurance, wireless, and banking all posted the best returns. The life insurance industry (8.06%) posted the highest return. The lowest performing industries during the quarter were oil field services, independent energy, pharma, and wirelines. The oil field services industry (-10.72%) posted the lowest return.

the high yield primary market posted $76.8 billion in issuance. Issuance within Communications was the strongest with 25% of the total during the quarter. The 2019 third quarter level of issuance was much more than the $50.8 billion posted during the third quarter of 2018. Through the first nine months of 2019, issuance has already surpassed the $186.9 posted during all of 2018.

The Federal Reserve held two meetings during Q3 2019, and the Federal Funds Target Rate was reduced 0.25% at both meetings. These were the first reductions to the Target Rate in over a decade. Chairman Powell pointed to “the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures” as reasoning to begin lowering the Target Rate. Following the second interest rate cut, Chairman Powell noted that “weakness in global growth and trade policy have weighed on the economy.” There were three dissenting votes at the September 18th meeting.

That was the highest number of dissents since 2016. However, it is important to note that one of the dissenting votes was in favor of a 0.50% cut rather than 0.25%, and the remaining two dissenting votes were in favor of no change to the Target Rate. As can be seen in the chart above, the Fed dot plot is currently suggesting that rates won’t change through 2020. As of this writing, investors are pricing in a 62.5% probability of a cut at the FOMC October meeting.i  Also shown in the chart is the rate that the market is pricing in through Fed Fund Futures for the next couple of years. Clearly, the Fed is still out of step from what the market is expecting. While we are interest rate agnostic and do not attempt to time interest rate movements, we are very aware of the impact Fed policy has on the markets. Therefore, we will continue to monitor this very important theme throughout the rest of this year and into 2020.

While the Target Rate moves tend to have a more immediate impact on the short end of the yield curve, yields on intermediate Treasuries decreased 35 basis points over the quarter, as the 10-year Treasury yield was at 2.01% on June 30th, and 1.66% at the end of the quarter. The 5-year Treasury decreased 23 basis points over the quarter, moving from 1.77% on June 30th, to 1.54% at the end of the quarter. Intermediate term yields more often reflect GDP and expectations for future economic growth and inflation rather than actions taken by the FOMC to adjust the Target Rate. Inflation as measured by core CPI was trending lower since the 2.4% print in mid-2018. However, the rate has ticked higher on each of the last three reports. The most recent print was 2.4% as of the September 12th report. The revised second quarter GDP print was 2.0% (quarter over quarter annualized rate). The consensus view of economists suggests a GDP for 2019 around 2.3% with inflation expectations around 1.8%.

The economic picture globally is continuing to dim. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) recently cut the global growth outlook while citing concern over trade tensions. The OECD commented that global growth is now at its lowest level in over a decade.ii Additionally, Moody’s has lowered their outlook on global manufacturing to negative noting that most industries are softening.iii However, as the Federal Reserve is easing monetary policy, other central banks are responding as well. The European Central Bank is stepping up stimulus with a rate cut and a restart of a monthly bond buying program.iv Further, the Bank of Japan is more likely to add additional stimulus at their October meeting after Governor Kuroda commented, “We don’t have any preset idea on whether to act next month. But we’re more keen to ease than before since overseas risks are heightening.”v

One matter of particular interest was the funding market dislocation of mid-September that raised concern of the Fed possibly losing control over short-term interest rates.vi  The term “chaos” was used to describe the repo market which saw Treasury general collateral spike 625 basis points overnight to a high print. To put that spike in context, the repo market has more typical fluctuations in the 10 basis points range. The suggested cause of the dislocation was quarterly tax payments which drew down cash reserves at the same time that Treasury supply was increasing for coupon auction settlements.vii The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (“FRBNY”) stepped in to deliver the first sizable ad hoc repo operation since the global financial crisis. This action and subsequent actions taken by the FRBNY leading into quarter-end helped to bring rates back inline. However, it is a situation to be observed over the balance of 2019. “Just to get through this year end, the Fed will have to inject significantly more reserves, and they will need to do it in a manner that doesn’t cause any other dislocations,” said a repo trader at a large Wall Street bank.

Being a more conservative asset manager, Cincinnati Asset Management is structurally underweight CCC and lower rated securities. This positioning has served our clients well so far in 2019. As noted above, our High Yield Composite gross total return has outperformed the Index over the third quarter and YTD measurement periods. With the market remaining robust during the third quarter, our cash position remained the largest drag on our overall performance. Additionally, our underweight positioning in the communications, banking, and finance sectors were a drag on our performance. Further, our credit selections within the consumer cyclical services, wireless, and healthcare industries hurt performance. However, our underweight in the energy, and pharma sectors were bright spots. Further, our credit selections within the midstream, aerospace/defense, technology, and utility industries were a benefit to performance.

The Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate High Yield Index ended the second quarter with a yield of 5.65%. This yield is an average that is barbelled by the CCC rated cohort yielding 10.73% and a BB rated slice yielding 4.05%. Equity volatility, as measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (“VIX”), jumped over 10 points to 25 at the end of July and beginning of August on escalating trade tensions with China. The VIX worked its way lower for the balance of the quarter finishing at 16. The third quarter had six issuers default on their debt. The twelve month default rate was 2.52% and has been driven by default volume in the energy sector. Excluding the energy sector, the default rate would fall to only 1.21%.viii Additionally, fundamentals of high yield companies continue to be mostly good. From a technical perspective, supply has increased from the low levels posted in 2018, and flows have been positive relative to the negative flows of 2018. Due to the historically below average default rates, the higher yields available relative to other spread product, and the diversification benefit in the High Yield Market, it is very much an area of select opportunity that deserves to be represented in many client portfolio allocations.

With the High Yield Market remaining very firm in terms of performance, it is important that we exercise discipline and selectivity in our credit choices moving forward. While the first quarter displayed similar returns across the quality buckets, the second quarter began to show investors differentiating a bit on the lower quality spectrum as the CCC bucket under-performed the broader market. This theme has continued through the third quarter. As more differentiating continues to creep into the higher quality buckets, it is expected that opportunities for our clients will be presented. The market needs to be carefully monitored to evaluate that the given compensation for the perceived level of risk remains appropriate on a security by security basis. It is important to focus on credit research and buy bonds of corporations that can withstand economic headwinds and also enjoy improved credit metrics in a stable to improving economy. As always, we will continue our search for value and adjust positions as we uncover compelling situations.

This information is intended solely to report on investment strategies identified by Cincinnati Asset Management. Opinions and estimates offered constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice, as are statements of financial market trends, which are based on current market conditions. This material is not intended as an offer or solicitation to buy, hold or sell any financial instrument. Fixed income securities may be sensitive to prevailing interest rates. When rates rise the value generally declines. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Gross of advisory fee performance does not reflect the deduction of investment advisory fees. Our advisory fees are disclosed in Form ADV Part 2A. Accounts managed through brokerage firm programs usually will include additional fees. Returns are calculated monthly in U.S. dollars and include reinvestment of dividends and interest. The index is unmanaged and does not take into account fees, expenses, and transaction costs. It is shown for comparative purposes and is based on information generally available to the public from sources believed to be reliable. No representation is made to its accuracy or completeness.

i Bloomberg October 1, 2019, 4:00 PM EDT: World Interest Rate Probability (WIRP)
ii Reuters September 19, 2019: “OECD Cuts Growth Outlook to Post-Crisis Low”
iii Moody’s September 17, 2019: “Outlook revised to negative on lower earnings forecast”
iv The Guardian September 12, 2019: “ECB announces fresh stimulus”
v Reuters September 24, 2019: “BOJ’s Kuroda says any easing will target short-, medium-term rates”
vi Bloomberg September 16, 2019: “Repo Market Chaos Signals Fed May Be Losing Control of Rates”
vii Wells Fargo September 17, 2019: “Repo Running Wild”

viii JP Morgan October 1, 2019: “Default Monitor”