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Inflation Risk Sinks 80% of Europe’s Company Debt Sold This Year

(Bloomberg) — Buyers of newly-minted corporate bonds are already nursing losses as inflation fears send government bond yields climbing.About four fifths of high-grade non-financial corporate bonds priced in Europe this year are quoted below their issue price, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. Last Friday, the share of post-issue losers stood at under 50%.This bleak statistic underscores the damaging effect on credit investors of the so-called reflation trade — bets on rapid economic recovery and an associated pickup in inflation — prompting many to seek shelter from further sovereign debt sell-offs.Investment grade bonds are more sensitive than high-yield debt to any threat of higher interest rates in response to inflation, a vulnerability known as ‘duration risk.’ That’s because they have longer life spans than lower-quality peers and carry lower risk premiums. This attribute is hitting investors hard this year.“Duration is already a problem when you see that rate-sensitive sectors underperform and this is going to increase,” said Vincent Benguigui, a portfolio manager at Federated Hermes, which oversees $625 billion. “Clearly everything is stretched.”The year-to-date total return of euro-denominated investment-grade bonds has slumped this week, to minus 0.96% from minus 0.56% on Monday. A month ago the return since the start of 2021 stood at minus 0.3%, according to Bloomberg Barclays indexes. By contrast, the less rate-sensitive junk bond market has gained 2.2%.While the threat of higher yields to compensate for a potential rise in inflation has been a thorn for high-grade investors throughout the year, a European Central Bank pledge to pick up the pace of its emergency pandemic QE program had helped funds recover some losses before this week’s sell-off pushed them further into the red.Rate risk is the main driver of corporate bond losses, as spreads on most of this year’s new issues are trading tighter than at launch, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average risk premium of high-grade euro bonds over safer government debt is indicated at 83 basis points, the lowest in more than three years, thanks to continued ECB purchases and bets on the economic reopening.Click here for the spread performance of all bonds issued in Europe this yearBut spreads, with little room to tighten further, seem incapable of stemming duration-driven losses.“While the extended recovery in fundamentals should provide another layer of support, higher yields in the euro government bonds space should limit euro investment grade’s ability to attract inflows and limit tightening potential once rates stabilize,” wrote Cem Keltek, a credit strategist at Commerzbank AG, in a note to clients on Thursday. “Pressure on rates and tapering prospects later in the year render long-end risk-reward unattractive.”Some hedge funds have started betting on price drops in corporate bonds amid the threat of rising interest rates and stretched valuations. Short positions in junk bonds have jumped to their highest level since 2008 and bearish bets on high-grade bonds are at their highest since early 2014.Bonds that lose value shortly after issuance could potentially discourage investors from bidding aggressively for new deals.This leaves high-grade investors with only one realistic source of return: the income made by just holding the interest-bearing bond, unless they are willing to switch to riskier parts of the credit market.“It’s more or less carry at this point,” said Martin Hasse, a portfolio manager at MM Warburg & Co., which oversees 76.2 billion euros ($92 billion). “Maybe a little tightening but not so much. High yield and subordinated notes can see more of that.”EuropeHigh yield issuers are in command of the region’s syndicated bond market on Friday, accounting for three of the day’s four deals as global credit risk sentiment improves.The financing arm of U.S. autoparts maker Dana Inc., Italian technology companies Lutech SpA and Cedacri SpA are pitching new deals that are likely to wrap up by market closeWeekly issuance is likely to reach 33.5 billion euros, according to data compiled by BloombergEuropean credit default risk fell for both investment-grade and high-yield bonds as more-tempered commodity prices helped allay investor concerns about inflation risksAsiaA rush of borrowers early in the week boosted dollar bond sales in Asia ex-Japan, with issuance doubling compared with the previous week.Bond sales rose to $8.4b from $4.2b a week earlier, the highest in three weeks, according to Bloomberg-compiled dataAt least 22 borrowers came to the market, the busiest week in 2021 since January in terms of number of issuersGLP Pte’s $850m perpetual note offering was the biggest bond sale this week, followed by a $707m offering by JSW Hydro Energy and a $650m note from Cathay Pacific AirwaysDeals slowed from mid-week, coinciding with release of data on Wednesday that showed U.S. consumer prices climbed in April by the most since 2009Yield premiums on Asia’s high-grade bonds, excluding Japan, and the cost of protection against such debt both dropped 1-2bps on Friday, credit traders saidU.S.Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s revenue beat estimates after China’s e-commerce leader rode a post-pandemic recovery and begins to move past a bruising antitrust investigationAs cash balances have risen toward $70 billion, financial flexibility may enable Alibaba to endure a prolonged period of macroeconomic uncertainty related to the coronavirus, as well as regulatory risk, better than hardware-centric technology peers, write Bloomberg Intelligence credit analysts Robert Schiffman and Suborna PanjaIt seemed almost certain that supply would at least match syndicate desks’ projections of $45 billion this week after Monday’s almost $28 billion bonanza, however, macro uncertainty fueled by inflation fears seems to have curbed issuanceLess than $3 billion priced on Thursday, bringing the week’s volume to $42 billionFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.