Back in 2006, some of the wall street banks (ahem, Goldman) managed to layoff quite a bit of their mortgage risk to unwitting European and Asian investors who, in their desperate ‘search for yield’, had no idea they had just been conned into stepping in front of a freight train. Now, it seems that the same thing may be happening yet again with another favorite wall street structured product, Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs).
According to Bloomberg, money managers in Korea, Japan and China are piling into CLOs, and often into the most junior tranches no less, at an alarming rate which has resulted in a staggering 97% increase in YoY new issuance volume.
Faced with near record-low interest rates at home, money managers in Korea, Japan and China have been piling into complex and increasingly risky structured loan products in America. Their investments in collateralized loan obligations — including the high-yield “equity’’ tranches most exposed to defaults — have helped drive a doubling of issuance in 2017.
The bets have performed well so far. But some observers worry that Asian buyers are overlooking risks. Headwinds in the retail and energy sectors have raised the specter of defaults, while Moody’s Investors Service has stopped evaluating one type of CLO product amid concern that buyers will end up holding less creditworthy positions than they anticipated.
“CLOs are a difficult investment universe, and CLO equity is a boom-and-bust product,’’ said Mike Terwilliger, a New York-based portfolio manager at Resource America Inc., which oversees more than $9 billion and invests in CLOs. “Investors need to make sure they’re being adequately compensated.’’
“U.S. CLO equity is starting to look a little less attractive,” Tyler said. “Investors may want to lighten up on this space before there’s a turn in the credit cycle given the illiquid nature of CLO structures.”
Meanwhile, non-U.S. money managers’ share of American CLO tranches with single-A credit ratings more than tripled to 21% last year, mostly due to surging demand from Asia, according to Citigroup Inc.
Korea Post, which manages about $102 billion of savings and insurance products, said in March it had been adding to CLO holdings. Japan Post Bank Co. has made plans to boost exposure to the safest tranches, people familiar with the matter said in January. Gopher Asset Management, a Chinese investment firm that oversees $17.5 billion, is currently raising money for a second global credit fund that may invest in CLOs, said Chief Investment Officer PV Wang.
Some “super-aggressive’’ Korean funds are buying equity tranches, according to Eugene Chun, who helps manage about $100 million of CLOs as a Seoul-based executive managing director at HDC Asset Management. Others are purchasing what’s known as combination notes, Chun said. The products blend investment grade and equity tranches to deliver higher yields while still maintaining adequate credit ratings.
Helped by strong Asian demand, CLO issuance has totaled about $32 billion so far this year, up 97% from the same period in 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Of course, the reasoning is fairly simple and quite familiar for those of us who lived through the ‘great recession’. With all-in yields on even the riskiest U.S. debt hovering at just over 5.5%, much lower than even the 2006/2007 bubble levels…
…wall street has a convenient product that takes ‘safe’ levered loans, packages them up in a nice little bundle and then sells them to folks all over the world with juicy yields and an investment grade rating. It’s a win-win-win…lower risk, higher yield and IG rating…
Haven’t we seen this movie before?