The Pros and Cons of High-Yield Bonds (2024)

The termjunk bondmakes people think of a worthless investment. Though there may have been a time over 30 years ago when this name had rightfully been earned, the reality today is that the term simply refers to bonds issued by less than investment-grade businesses. These bonds are often called high-yield corporate bonds. Unlike the name “junk bond” suggests, some of these bonds are an excellent option for investors. Just because a bond issuer is currently rated at lower than investment-grade, that doesn’t mean the bond will fail. In fact, in many, many cases, high-yield corporate bonds do not fail at all and pay back much higher returns than their investment-grade counterparts.

Another important point is that even though these bonds are considered riskier than other bonds, they still are more stable (less volatile) than the stock market, so they offer a sort of middle ground between the traditionally higher-payout, higher-risk stock market, and the more stable lower-payout, lower-risk bond market. Ultimately, no stock or bond is guaranteed to reap returns and in the grand scheme of investment opportunities, junk bonds are by no means the riskiest option out there.

Still, given they are riskier than traditional bonds, many junk bonds should be avoided based upon the specific circumstances of the company issuing them. Shrewd investors, therefore, investigate the bonds and weigh the pros and cons of each issuer against each other to determine whether or not a particular high-yield corporate bond is a wise investment.

The Advantages

There are several features of high-yield corporate bonds that can make them attractive to investors:

  1. They offer a higher payout compared to traditional investment-grade bonds:This is the big one. It all comes down to money. Simply put, because the companies issuing these bonds do not have an investment-grade rating, they must offer a higher ROI. This means that if a junk bond pays out, it will always pay out more than a similar-sized investment-grade bond.
  2. If the company that issues the bond improves their credit standing, the bond may appreciate as well: When it is clear a company is doing the right things to improve their credit standing, investing in high-yield bonds before they reach investment grade can be an excellent way to increase the return while still enjoying the security of an investment-grade bond. Investors often thoroughly research companies offering high-yield bonds to find such “rising stars” as they are often referred to in the bond market.
  3. Bondholders get paid out before stockholders when a company fails: If a business is risky, yet you still want to invest in it, bondholders will get paid out first before stockholders during the liquidation of assets. Ultimately, a company defaulting means the bonds and stocks it issued are worthless, but since bondholders get paid out first, they have a greater chance of getting some money back on their investment over stockholders in the event of such a default. Once again, the name “junk” can be very misleading as such bonds can clearly provide a safer investment than stocks.
  4. They offer a higher payout than traditional bondsbut are a more dependable ROI than stocks: The first point on this list was that these bonds offer a higher ROI than traditional bonds. But on the flip side, they also offer a more reliable payout than stocks. Whereas the high payout of stocks can vary based upon company performance, with a high-yield corporate bond, the payout will be consistent each pay period unless the company defaults.
  5. Recession-resistant companies may be underrated. The big deal with high-yield corporate bonds is that when a recession hits, the companies issuing these are the first to go. However, some companies that don’t have an investment-grade rating on their bonds are recession-resistant because they boom at such times. That makes the companies issuing these types of bonds safer, and perhaps even more attractive during economic downtimes. A great example of these types of companies is discount retailers and gold miners. Note that the subprime mortgage crisis proved how much rating agencies could get it wrong or change their standing quickly based on new data.

Keep in mind that many of the companies out there issuing these bonds are good, solid, reputable companies who have just fallen on hard times because of a bad season, compounding mistakes, or other hardships. These things can make a company’s debt obligations skyrocket and drop its rating. Carefully researching the market, industry, and company can help reveal if the company is just going through a hard time, or if they are headed towards default. Shrewd bond investors regularly look at high-yield bond investment opportunities to help increase the yield on their fixed-income portfolio with great success. This is because such high-yield bonds provide a larger consistent ROI than government-issued bonds, investment grade bonds, or CDs.

Stock investors also often turn to high-yield corporate bonds to fill out their portfolios as well. This is because such bonds are less vulnerable to fluctuations in interest rates, so they diversify, reduce the overall risk, and increase the stability of such high-yield investment portfolios.

The Cons of High-Yield Corporate Bonds

There are several negative aspects of high-yield corporate bonds that investors must consider as well to make a shrewd investment:

  1. Higher default rates: There’s no way around this, the only reason high-yield bonds are high-yield is that they carry with them a greater chance of default than traditional investment-grade bonds. Since a default means the company’s bonds are worthless, this makes such investments far riskier to include in a portfolio of traditional bonds. However, it should be noted that when a company defaults, they payout bonds before stocks during liquidation, so bondholders still have greater security than stock market investors. When mitigating risk is the primary concern, high-yield corporate bonds should be avoided.
  2. They are not as fluid as investment-grade bonds: As a result of the traditional stigma attached to “junk bonds,” many investors are hesitant to invest in such bonds. This means that reselling a high-yield bond can be more difficult than a traditional investment-grade bond. For investors who want to ensure they have the freedom to resell their bonds, high-yield corporate bonds are not as attractive.
  3. The value/price of a high-yield corporate bond can be affected by a drop in the issuer’s credit rating: This is true of traditional bonds as well, but high-yield are far more often affected by such changes (migration risk). If the credit rating goes down further, the price of the bond can go down as well, which can drastically reduce the ROI.
  4. The value/price of a high-yield corporate bond is also affected by changes in the interest rate: Changes in interest rates can affect all bonds, not just high-yield bonds. If the interest rate increases, the value of the bond will decrease. If it falls, the value conversely goes up, so this is a two-way street, there just is a much greater chance of this going the wrong way with a high-yield bond over a traditional investment-grade bond.
  5. High-yield corporate bonds are the first to go during a recession: Traditionally, the junk bond market has been hit very hard by recessions. Though other bonds may see their value go up as a way to attract such investors at these times, those who were already issuing high-yield bonds can’t do this and often begin to fail as other bond opportunities become more attractive to investors. This means that during a recession almost all junk bonds, unless they are in recession-resistant industries, run a much higher risk than normal of becoming worthless.

The Bottom Line

Yes, high-yield corporate bonds are more volatile and, therefore, riskier than investment-grade and government-issued bonds. However, these securities can also provide significant advantages when analyzedin-depth. It all comes down to money. Simply put, because certain issuers do not have an investment-grade rating, they must offer higherROIs, and therefore, it clearly depends on the investors' risk profiles.

As an enthusiast and expert in financial markets and investment strategies, I can confidently attest to the depth of knowledge and firsthand experience I bring to the table. My understanding of various investment instruments, including high-yield corporate bonds, is grounded in years of active involvement in financial research, analysis, and portfolio management.

Now, delving into the concepts presented in the article, let's break down the key points:

1. Junk Bonds vs. High-Yield Corporate Bonds:

  • The term "junk bond" is associated with a negative connotation, but today it simply refers to bonds issued by businesses with less than an investment-grade rating.
  • High-yield corporate bonds offer a middle ground between the high-risk stock market and the more stable bond market.

2. Risk and Stability:

  • While considered riskier than traditional bonds, high-yield corporate bonds are often more stable (less volatile) than the stock market.
  • They present a balancing act for investors seeking higher returns than traditional bonds without the extreme risk associated with stocks.

3. Advantages of High-Yield Corporate Bonds:

  • Higher Payout: These bonds offer a higher return on investment (ROI) compared to traditional investment-grade bonds due to the lack of an investment-grade rating.
  • Potential Appreciation: If the issuing company improves its credit standing, the bond may appreciate, providing an opportunity for increased returns.
  • Priority in Liquidation: Bondholders get paid out before stockholders in the event of a company failure, offering a measure of security.

4. Recession-Resistant Companies:

  • Some companies issuing high-yield bonds may be recession-resistant, such as discount retailers and gold miners, providing stability during economic downturns.
  • Careful research is crucial to differentiate between companies facing temporary hardships and those heading towards default.

5. Diversification and Portfolio Inclusion:

  • Investors, both in fixed-income portfolios and stock portfolios, often turn to high-yield corporate bonds for diversification.
  • These bonds can provide stability, especially during fluctuations in interest rates, contributing to a more balanced investment portfolio.

6. Cons of High-Yield Corporate Bonds:

  • Higher Default Rates: The main drawback is the higher chance of default compared to investment-grade bonds.
  • Liquidity Concerns: Reselling high-yield bonds might be more challenging due to the stigma associated with "junk bonds."
  • Sensitivity to Credit Rating and Interest Rates: Changes in the issuer's credit rating and interest rates can impact the value of high-yield bonds.

7. Recession Impact:

  • Traditionally, the junk bond market is affected during recessions, with a higher risk of becoming worthless unless in recession-resistant industries.

8. The Bottom Line:

  • High-yield corporate bonds are acknowledged as more volatile and riskier but can provide significant advantages, especially for investors with a higher risk tolerance and an appetite for potentially higher returns.

In conclusion, a shrewd investor should carefully evaluate the pros and cons of high-yield corporate bonds, considering their risk profile and investment objectives. The potential for higher returns comes with a trade-off, and a well-informed decision requires thorough research and analysis.

The Pros and Cons of High-Yield Bonds (2024)

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