U.S. company bond sales are falling, with speculative-grade issuance headed for the slowest month since December 2008, on growing signs the economy is faltering.
PepsiCo Inc., the world’s biggest snack-food maker, and Glenview, Illinois-based Illinois Tool Works Inc. led $5.7 billion of sales this week, a 72 percent decline from $20.4 billion in the period ended Aug. 19, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. There were no offerings of high-yield, high-risk bonds this week, leaving August’s total at $1 billion, compared with the monthly average this year of $28.5 billion.
Yields on corporate bonds have soared to the highest level since March as Europe’s debt crisis worsens and economists from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to JPMorgan Chase & Co. reduce their forecasts for U.S. growth. Central bankers are meeting this week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke last year hinted at a second round of bond purchases, or quantitative easing.
“A lot of issuers are staying away from the market because they’re tired of seeing this volatility and they’re waiting for it to die down,” said Jody Lurie, a credit analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia. “With yields going haywire, investors don’t feel comfortable putting their money in riskier assets without knowing what the economy has in store.”
Overall corporate bond yields rose to 4.85 percent as of Aug. 25 from 4.68 percent at the end of last week, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. Corporate & High Yield Index. The measure ended July at 4.5 percent. Yields touched 4.91 percent on Aug. 24, the highest since March 3.
The extra yield investors demand to own corporate debt instead of Treasuries expanded 11 basis points in the week to 338 basis points as of Aug. 25, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch index. The index reached 339 on Aug. 24, the most since October 2009.
“Yields are so expensive that a lot of people, like myself, are sort of in a wait-and-see mode,” said William Larkin, a fixed-income money manager at Salem, Massachusetts- based Cabot Money Management, which oversees $500 million. “There’s a lot of concern over what the Fed may do. Right now, cash is probably not a bad investment to hold.”
Borrowing costs are rising as reports this week showed home prices in the U.S. fell 5.9 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier for the biggest decline since 2009 and overall business activity in the mid-Atlantic region factories fell to minus 10 in August.
The U.S. will expand 1.5 percent this year, down from a previous forecast of 1.7 percent, Goldman Sachs economists in New York including Jan Hatzius said in an Aug. 19 note. For the fourth quarter, JPMorgan predicts 1 percent growth in U.S. gross domestic product, versus an earlier projection of 2.5 percent, the bank said last week.
“Corporates are fine, there’s a lot of good positive cash flow and cash on balance sheets,” Cabot’s Larkin said. “It’s the economic direction, the bigger picture, that’s very confusing right now and things are very expensive. That creates a wait-and-see attitude.”
PepsiCo sold $1.25 billion of debt on Aug. 22, Bloomberg data show. The Purchase, New York-based maker of the namesake soda issued $500 million of three-year, 0.8 percent notes that pay 57 basis points more than similar-maturity Treasuries and $750 million of 10-year, 3 percent bonds at a spread of 97 basis points, Bloomberg data show.
Illinois Tool Works
Illinois Tool Works, the maker of Hobart food mixers and Duo-Fast nail guns, sold $1 billion of bonds on Aug. 24 split between 10-and 30-year debt, the data show.
The shutdown of the market for speculative-grade borrowers, graded below Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and lower than BBB- by Standard & Poor’s, came as the debt faces its worst monthly loss since November 2008.
High-yield, high-risk, or junk, bonds have declined 5 percent this month through Aug. 25, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show.
Investment-grade bonds have declined 0.3 percent in August, poised for the second monthly decline this year after losing 0.8 percent in June, Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data show.
An announcement by Bernanke of further monetary easing would bolster confidence among fixed-income investors and help reverse some of this month’s under-performance, said Wilmer Stith, who manages $3 billion of bonds for MTB Investment Advisors in Baltimore.
“If they do it, that would help risk assets, including investment-grade and high-yield bonds,” Stith said.