High yield bond issuance hit an all-time record in 2012, with $306 billion worth of new HY bonds coming to market by the end of October. In fact September was an all-time record month for new issue - on the back of the Fed's latest action.
Leverage finance space as a whole also hit a new record. Adding new issue HY bonds and institutional loans (see discussion) puts 2012 ahead of 2007, the previous record.
Demand for yield remains strong, pushing non-investment grade yields to record lows.
One of the reasons for this optimism has to do with new issue market pushing out the leveraged finance maturity wall, as companies refinance into longer maturities. Back in 2009 the wall looked quite scary (see this post from 2009), with the largest concentrations of maturities in 2013 and 2014. But the markets have been chipping away at those two years. This reduced the risk of near-term liquidity problems in case the HY new issue market suddenly dries up, lowering expected default rates in the near-term.
We are, however, starting to see some signs of speculative primary market activity. According to JPM, six toggle notes have been issued in October ($2.6bn). These are debt securities that give borrowers the option to skip coupon payments, increasing the face value of the debt instead (payment in kind or PIK). It is roughly the corporate equivalent of option ARM mortgages. Also October saw 11 so-called dividend deals in which the proceeds from a bond sale are used to pay a dividend to the shareholders.
This is considered a more risky transaction because rather than using cash to refinance existing debt or acquire a business, the company simply pays it out, causing its leverage to increase. In the mortgage world this is the equivalent of using a home equity loan to take a vacation rather than to put an addition to the house or to repay credit card debt.
In spite of some of the more risky transactions, on average the deals have been far less speculative in nature than during the 2006-07 period. This trend of potentially loosening lending standards (such as toggle notes or dividend deals) in the leveraged finance markets will be important to watch going forward.