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June 02 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

A Cautionary Tale from the '80s for Today's Loan Participations

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Christopher Whalen for the American Banker. Here is a section: 


Since 2013, the federal regulatory agencies have been warning banks and investors about the potential risks in leveraged lending. These warnings have been both timely and prescient, particularly in view of the ongoing credit debacle in the Energy sector. In addition to the well-documented credit risk posed by leverage loans, we believe that the widespread practice of selling participations in leveraged loans represents a significant additional risk to financial institutions and other investors from this asset class.

While regulators have appropriately focused on the credit risk component of leveraged loans held by banks and nonbanks alike, the use of participations to distribute risk exposures to other banks and nonbank investors also raises significant prudential and systemic risk concerns. The weakness in oil prices, for example, has caused investors to cut exposure to companies in the Energy sector. This shift in asset allocations caused by the decline in oil prices has negatively impacted prices for leveraged loans and high yield bonds. In some cases, holders of these securities are attempting to exit these exposures by securitizing the participations.

The investor exodus away from leveraged loans with exposure to the petroleum sector brings back memories of the 1970s oil bust, an economic shock that led to the failure of Penn Square Bank in 1982, the subsequent failure of Seafirst Bank later in that year, followed by Continental Illinois Bank in 1984. Before its failure, Penn Square technically continued to "own" — and service — loan interests held by other banks with participations. As receiver for the failed bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. deemed those investors to be nothing more than general creditors of the failed bank's estate. Those participating banks lost their entire investment.


Eoin Treacy's view -

Leveraged loans issuance overtook the 2007 peak a couple of years ago. That fact is bemusing to many people who remember claims that bankers would never again engage in such activity. Yet with interest rates so low and the demand for yield so high the rationale for issuing to less than optimal borrowers is hard to resist. 

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February 08 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Credit Market Risk Surges to Four-Year High Amid Global Selloff

This article by Aleksandra Gjorgievska and Tom Beardsworth for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Exchange-traded funds that hold U.S. junk bonds slid to their lowest levels in almost seven years. BlackRock’s iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond exchange-traded fund and SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond ETF both fell to the lowest levels since 2009.

Financials and Energy were the two investment-grade sectors that added the most risk in the U.S., Markit CDX North American Indexes show. In high yield, Energy, communications and health care fared the worst.

Chesapeake Energy Corp., the U.S. natural gas driller that’s been cutting jobs and investor payouts to conserve dwindling cash flows, lost more than half it stock market value Monday after a report that it hired a restructuring law firm.

The company’s bonds led losses among high-yield debt on Monday. Chesapeake’s notes due March 2016 tumbled to a record to 74.5 cents, from 95 cents last week, while its bonds maturing in 2017 fell to an all-time low at 34 cents.

“Broad oil weakness has now turned into distressed Energy cases, which investors view as possibilities of higher risk of restructuring or debt exchanges," Ben Emons, a money manager at Leader Capital Corporation. “Nothing has been announced of that matter but markets move quicker ahead of such possibility happening."


Eoin Treacy's view -

Regardless of the answer, when someone asks whether a default is imminent one has to conclude that the situation is troubling. This is as true of Chesapeake today as it was of Greece, Portugal et al a few years ago. 

Chesapeake’s 2017 6.25% Senior UnSecured bullet bond now yields 150% suggesting very few people think it will make its last coupon payment due in July.   


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December 22 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Soaring Debt Yields Suggest Oil M&A Could Happen in 2016

This article by Liam Denning for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Mergers haven't taken off in the oil patch this year largely because potential targets have been banking on a rebound and potential buyers have been expecting further falls. The spike in yields for borrowers in the Energy sector, along with the growing acceptance that oil and gas prices likely face another year on their back, should mean those opposing views finally converge in 2016, prompting some deals.

What's more, this chart suggests the advantage should lie with large, strategic buyers like the oil majors for two reasons.

First, one way potential targets have been shoring up balance sheets is to sell assets rather than the entire company.

But a thriving asset market requires buyers being able to raise capital at reasonable rates, be they other E&P companies or private equity firms looking to snap up bargains. Asset sales have slowed already this year, with just $29 billion worth in North America, compared with $107 billion in 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Second, with the cost of capital rising and cash harder to come by, any deals struck will require at least the promise of synergies and will favor those buyers able to use their own stock as a credible acquisition currency. One reason Anadarko's approach to Apache met with such scorn was that it scattered rather than tightened the company's focus. The majors, diversified anyway, bring the benefit of bigger balance sheets, which both alleviate any credit pressures weighing on the target and provide a clearer path to developing a smaller E&P company's reserves. Paying with shares also means that selling shareholders get to participate to some degree in the eventual recovery in oil and gas prices.


Eoin Treacy's view -

Major oil companies have slashed exploration budgets with the result they have more capital to pick up promising assets as prices decline. Private Equity firms have amassed sizable war chests to invest in troubled Energy companies but have so far been slow to make large purchases. Meanwhile sellers are hoping for a rebound so they can get a better price. With everyone appearing to bide their time a catalyst is required to encourage deal making. 

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December 11 2015

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

High Yield and Energy

Eoin Treacy's view -

When interest rates are low there is an incentive to issue debt over equity. The low interest rate environment also contributes to spreads tightening as yield hungry investors move further out the risk curve to capture the return they require. The unexpectedly long length of time that interest rates have been low has created a situation where business models were framed around the situation continuing and now that the Fed is set to change tack an adjustment is underway. 

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December 19 2014

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Year-Ahead Outlook 2015

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank focusing on the credit markets. Here is a section:


Historically, it has been the case that lower oil provided a net benefit to the US and EU economies, both of which were large net importers of Energy. This remains the case in EU today, however we wonder to what extent this relationship might have changed for the US in recent years. Just looking at Energy companies in our IG and HY indexes, we are seeing their cumulative capital expenditures since Jan 2010 at $4.7 trillion, with $1.15trln coming in the last four quarters alone. The latter figure translates into 6.5% of the total US GDP, not an immaterial figure. We realize that not all of this capex went into US shale plays, however it is just as important to acknowledge that not all US shale players are captured by our IG/HY index data. What part of this capex budget gets cut next year is subject to uncertainty, however even a relatively modest cut of 10% could translate into a noticeable 65bp impact on broader GDP figures.

What makes this issue even more consequential to the US economy, is that the negative impact of lower oil is unlikely to remain confined just to the Energy sector alone. Some of the more obvious casualties will include capital goods and materials sectors, where suppliers of drilling equipment, pipes, storage containers, machinery, cement, water, and chemicals used in shale production are all likely to experience a negative impact. Now, readers should be careful to avoid double-counting the same dollars here, as a dollar of capex by oil producer is 80 cents of inventory sold from its suppliers; only incremental value-added is captured by the GDP. Add to this list railroads, where volumes exploded in recent years as large quantities of oil were ferried by rail cars.

All these are relatively obvious casualties of a pullback in Energy producers’ budgets. Perhaps somewhat less straightforward would be utilities – we wonder how much electricity was used to power all this new shale-related manufacturing, production, transportation, and refining activity? Taking one more step towards less directly impacted sectors, we think about financials, and not even in a sense of direct loan exposures to cash-flow challenged producers. Energy producers have raised $550bn in new debt across USD IG, HY, and leveraged loan markets since early 2010 (Figure 3). Lower capex budgets would imply lower need (and ability!) to borrow, thus squeezing a revenue source for investment banks.

And now to the least obvious, or perhaps even counterintuitive, candidates: think about consumer discretionary sectors, such as retail, autos, real estate, and gaming. States with the strongest employment growth in the US in the last few years were all states heavily involved in shale development – average unemployment rate in Dakotas, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Texas is 4.1%, compared to a national aggregate of 5.8%. Average unemployment rate in oil-producing states today is lower than the national aggregate was at any point in time in the last twelve years.

While we still believe that lower oil prices would provide a net benefit to consumer discretionary areas, we think that historical parallels between Energy prices and their positive net effects could be challenged in this episode given significant changes to structural characteristics of the US economy. Just as we believe consensus has consistently underestimated positive externalities of the US Energy revolution in the past few years, it is positioning itself to underestimate the other side of this development now. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The stock market appears to be currently focused on the benign economic scenario that has allowed the Fed to signal short-term interest rates may increase in 2015. With unemployment back to trend and early signs of wage increases, along with recovering economic growth, the Fed has good reason to want to use this environment as an opportunity to replenish its arsenal of policy tools. Consumers will find that they have extra money in their pocket every time they fill up at the pump or pay of heating oil and these benefits will pass on to Energy consuming sectors as well. 

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