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Today's Credit Opportunities in 5 Charts

How can credit markets help active investors achieve their goals in the present low yield environment? Here are 5 ideas.

In addition to being a human tragedy, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated existing structural trends and created new disruptions to the way we live and the world we live in. These macro changes are producing winners and losers, creating potential value for active investors as the dispersion of returns between sectors, credit qualities, and regions increases. Here are five credit ideas and charts that help illustrate the opportunity:

1. The search for yield

The monetary policy response to the pandemic has been unprecedented in size and scale. Rate cuts intended to stimulate the economy have brought global yields lower and, as of the end of November 2020, over 25% of global fixed income assets were negative-yielding. This means that investors looking for positive yield may have to increasingly move down the risk spectrum and towards credit for their income needs. Indeed, there have been significant inflows into credit mutual funds so far this year.

Chart 1: The search for yield may drive demand for credit assets

Chart 1: The search for yield may drive demand for credit assetsChina was the first country affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and also the first to recover: PIMCO forecasts that by the end of 2021, Chinese Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be almost 15% above its 2019 level. This contrasts with U.S. GDP, which is likely to have only just reached its pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, and given prospects of a weaker U.S. dollar in 2021 and a “lower-for-longer“ interest rate environment, we expect inflows into emerging market (EM) Asia credit to continue. Finally, valuations for Asia credit may be attractive: The spread premium relative to U.S. credit is currently near three-year wides, as seen in the chart.

Chart 2: Credit spread premium for Asia credit vs. U.S. credit

Chart 2: Credit spread premium for Asia credit vs. U.S. creditThe pandemic has affected different sectors unevenly. Technology, for instance, has rallied as our ways of working and consuming have become more digital, while sectors like hospitality and travel have been severely hit due to lockdown measures. Significant fiscal and monetary intervention has helped tighten credit spreads from the extreme levels seen in March 2020, but some sectors, especially those worst hit by the recession, are still far from their pre-pandemic levels. With vaccines in deployment and the economic recovery expected to continue, spreads in these hardest-hit sectors may be poised to outperform and offer further upside, particularly among more resilient issuers that have ample liquidity.

Chart 3: COVID-affected sectors have generally underperformed more defensive sectors in 2020

Chart 3: COVID-affected sectors have generally underperformed more defensive sectors in 2020This year’s economic contraction increased the number of downgrades from investment grade (IG) ratings to high yield (HY) (known as fallen angels) to levels last seen in 2015–2016 after the plunge in global oil prices. This also meant that there was far more debt in the lowest IG bracket (BBB and BBB−) on downgrade watch by a rating agency than there was HY debt in the highest HY bracket (BB and BB+) being considered for an upgrade. The situation, however, has reversed now: For the first time in 13 years, and on the expectations of an economic recovery, over the near term there is more HY debt that could be upgraded (known as rising stars) than IG debt that could be downgraded, as seen in the chart.

Chart 4: More upgrades than downgrades?

Chart 4: More upgrades than downgrades?U.S. high yield defaults spiked in April and May 2020, when an earnings slowdown resulting from global lockdown measures and collapsing oil prices hit weaker issuers within the asset class. Defaults, however, have gradually declined since then. As the economic recovery continues, defaults are likely to continue to decline, although they may remain elevated vs. long-term averages into 2021, highlighting the importance of active management and security selection.

Chart 5: Defaults: good news in the bad news

Chart 5: Defaults: good news in the bad newsSource: BAML as of 30 Nov 2020. Chart shows quarterly defaulted debt in the ICE BAML US HY Index. Volume figure includes distressed exchanges.

Disclosures

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Investment management products and services offered by PIMCO Japan Ltd are offered only to persons within its respective jurisdiction, and are not available to persons where provision of such products or services is unauthorized.

Past performance is not a guarantee or a reliable indicator of future results.

All investments contain risk and may lose value. Investing in the bond market is subject to risks, including market, interest rate, issuer, credit, inflation risk, and liquidity risk. The value of most bonds and bond strategies are impacted by changes in interest rates. Bonds and bond strategies with longer durations tend to be more sensitive and volatile than those with shorter durations; bond prices generally fall as interest rates rise, and low interest rate environments increase this risk. Reductions in bond counterparty capacity may contribute to decreased market liquidity and increased price volatility. Bond investments may be worth more or less than the original cost when redeemed. Investing in foreign-denominated and/or -domiciled securities may involve heightened risk due to currency fluctuations, and economic and political risks, which may be enhanced in emerging markets.  High yield, lower-rated securities involve greater risk than higher-rated securities; portfolios that invest in them may be subject to greater levels of credit and liquidity risk than portfolios that do not.

The credit quality of a particular security or group of securities does not ensure the stability or safety of an overall portfolio. The quality ratings of individual issues/issuers are provided to indicate the credit-worthiness of such issues/issuer and generally range from AAA, Aaa, or AAA (highest) to D, C, or D (lowest) for S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch respectively.

Statements concerning financial market trends or portfolio strategies are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. There is no guarantee that these investment strategies will work under all market conditions or are appropriate for all investors and each investor should evaluate their ability to invest for the long term, especially during periods of downturn in the market. Investors should consult their investment professional prior to making an investment decision.

Outlook and strategies are subject to change without notice.

PIMCO as a general matter provides services to qualified institutions, financial intermediaries and institutional investors. Individual investors should contact their own financial professional to determine the most appropriate investment options for their financial situation. This material contains the opinions of the manager and such opinions are subject to change without notice. This material has been distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. It is not possible to invest directly in an unmanaged index. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but not guaranteed. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission. PIMCO is a trademark of Allianz Asset Management of America L.P. in the United States and throughout the world. ©2020, PIMCO.

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