Investment-grade corporate bonds are debt instruments rated BBB- and above by rating major Standard & Poor’s. Other rating agencies have their own scale of rating a corporate bond as “investment-grade.” Treasuries are also considered investment-grade.
Yield movements in 2015 so far
The first four months of 2015 saw yields on investment-grade corporate bonds fall, according to the BofA Merrill Lynch US Corporate Master Effective Yield. Safe-haven demand for these bonds, along with the higher yield that they were providing compared to similarly rated instruments of other developed nations, led to a fall in yields. Yields on investment-grade corporate bonds had fallen to a low of 2.84% by mid-April. US corporates and financials thronged the primary bond market in the United States due to these low yield levels.
Since April’s end, yields showed some rising trends, though they remained lower than in 2014. But June broke the low-level yield trend—which continued into August. Yields rose to as high as 3.41% on August 14. This wasn’t only the highest level in 2015 so far, but it was also the highest level since September 20, 2013.
Spreads in 2015
The BofA Merrill Lynch Option-Adjusted Spread (or OAS) measures the average difference in yields between investment-grade bonds and Treasuries. The securities selected for calculating this spread are rated BBB- or higher on S&P’s rating scale.
If spreads are rising or widening, you can assume that credit conditions are worsening. Spreads also widen when growth is slow and economic conditions are worsening. Conversely, falling or tightening spreads coincide with faster growth and with better economic conditions.
In 2014, spreads by this measure had ranged between 1.06% and 1.51%. Until August 14, 2015, spreads have ranged between 1.29% and 1.64%. Spreads had fallen as the year progressed, except in May, June, and now July. The OAS had averaged 1.50% in January 2015. The average fell to 1.43% in February, to 1.35% in March, and to 1.33% in April. However, in May 2015, spreads averaged 1.34%, In June, they averaged 1.42%. In July, the average was 1.51%. Until August 14, 2015, the spread had averaged 1.61%. The highest spread, at 1.64%, came on August 14. Further, spreads are up 20 basis points compared to the end of December 2014.
US financials were the highest issuers of high-grade bonds in the week ended August 14, making up 37.7% of all issuance.
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