Given recent geopolitical and macroeconomic events we are surprised at how well credit markets have been in 2014. The world continues to be awash in liquidity and investors are chasing yield seemingly regardless of risk. Leverage levels in the United States are increasing and rose by almost a full third over the past year while spreads between IG and HY are ~250 basis points below the 20 year average. Thus, the market is not assigning a significant premium to riskier assets. We continually ask whether the fundamentals in the global credit markets are healthy and sustainable. Frankly, we don’t think so.
- From Carlyle Group’s 1Q14 Earnings Conference Call yesterday
Over the weekend, I published a Guest Post on the bubble in the junk bond market titled: Is There a Massive High Yield Credit Bubble? If you haven’t read it already, I suggest doing so before reading the rest of this post.
The following piece builds on that prior one by highlighting some of the most absurd practices currently going on in the less creditworthy areas of the bond market. Signs that prove without question there is some sort of dangerous bubble already percolating throughout the credit markets.
The first of these are known as “dividend deals.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, you might not believe what they actually are. Basically, dividend deals are when companies owned by private equity firms tap the credit markets, and then a sizable percentage of the money borrowed is used to cut a check to the private equity owners themselves. Often times, the remainder of the debt is used to refinance existing debt.
Yes, you heard that right. The money earned from credit issuance isn’t used to expand operations, it isn’t spend on R&D, or anything productive whatsoever. Rather, funds are used to pay money directly to the private equity owners. From a private equity owner perspective, this is free money and of course they will take it. The insane thing is that creditors are willing to buy this garbage, and buying it they are. By the billions. In fact, you might own some in your mutual fund or pension fund. Who fucking knows, but this is insane.
The second sign of insanity is the increase in “payment-in-kind” notes. What this means is that interest on the debt can be paid back in, wait this is no joke, more debt! Even crazier, we are seeing examples of “payment-in-kind” notes being issued for the purpose of paying out dividends to private equity owners. I want to know which fund managers are buying these notes, and you should too.
Bloomberg recently covered the credit insanity in their piece: Dividend Deal ‘Epidemic’ Intensifies Junk Alarm. Here are some excerpts:
Companies owned by private-equity firms are borrowing money to pay dividends like it’s 2007, adding to concern among regulators that excesses are emerging in the riskier parts of the debt markets.
Borrowers including Madison Dearborn Partners LLC’s mobile-phone insurer Asurion LLC obtained almost $21 billion in junk-rated loans this year to enrich their owners, the most in seven years, according to Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ LCD. Some of the least-creditworthy companies are even selling notes that may pay interest with more debt, which BMC Software Inc. did for its $750 million payout to a group led by Bain Capital LLC.
“It’s kind of like an epidemic,” Martin Fridson, a New York-based money manager at Lehmann, Livian, Fridson Advisors LLC, who started his career as a corporate-debt trader in 1976, said in a telephone interview. “Once an investment banker sees that, he’s going to go to his clients and say, ‘Here’s a window of opportunity, you can take a dividend and get away with it.’”
That says it all right there. Why is private equity rushing to do these deals? Well, why does a dog lick its balls? Because it can.
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