The Global Hunt for Yield Could Spell Trouble

The recent weeks, Challenger’s Ltd [ASX:CGF] bond portfolio has come under scrutiny. In a world of low yield, Australia’s largest provider of retirement annuities has turned to risker assets to increase profitability.

Of Challenger’s $10.4 billion bond portfolio, around 24% are junk bonds.

Challenger’s bond portfolio

Source: The Australian

For those who need a bond refresher, junk bonds are anything below a BB rating. They are the opposite to their AAA cousins, those considered to be the safest of the safe.

These ratings are given out by rating agencies based on cash flow positions. If a bond issuer can easily meet bond obligations and the future is bright, their bonds likely have a triple AAA rating.

The issuers that have cash flow problems and are struggling to meet obligations might receive a BB rating for their bonds. So why would anyone buy these junk bonds?

While they’re risker, they offer higher yields than AAA bonds.

Is the Extra Yield Worth the Risks Involved?

According to The Australian it’s not just Challenger bulking up on junk.

Insurance Australia Group, Suncorp and QBE have been bulking up on riskier financial investments over the past two years, partly to diversify the groups’ fixed income holdings away from major Australian companies. Profits in the insurance sector are under sustained pressure as premium prices flat line and natural disasters spark large claims blowouts.

Insurers derive a large part of their profitability from investment income and must find investments with yields high enough to support the company and pay claims, while at the same time tempering risk in order not to jeopardise their financial position.

With global interest rates at record lows, high yields are mostly found in riskier investments, and insurers have had to look towards bonds with lower credit ratings, including non-investment-grade assets known as junk bonds that pay a higher rate of interest.

Challenger’s bonds portfolio

Source: The Australian

While all junk bonds don’t necessarily default, it’s concerning when billion dollar insurers are all bulking up on these assets. If a small portion of these bond holdings do default, companies like Challenger and Suncorp might be lucky to receive 50 cents on the dollar.

And if interest rates do rise, the situation could get far worse for those holding junk bonds. Therefore you might want to be cautious of Aussie insurers, as their portfolios remain heavy on junk.

But it’s not just insurers. Find out which other ASX stocks could be at risk of dramatic falls in the coming months by clicking here.


Härje Ronngard,

Junior Analyst, Markets & Money

Harje Ronngard is a Junior Analyst at Markets and Money. With an academic background in finance and investments, Harje knows how simple, yet difficult investing can be. He has worked with a range of assets classes, from futures to equities. But he’s found his niche in equity valuation. It’s not good enough to be right on average when it comes to investing. The market is volatile and it only takes one bad day to ruin your portfolio. You don’t want to end up like the six foot man that drowned in the river that was five foot deep on average. It’s why Harje is constantly reminding investors of their downside risk here at Markets and Money. He does so by simply asking just two questions.  What is it worth? And how much does it cost? These two questions alone open up a world of investment opportunities which Harje shares with Markets and Money readers. Right now Harje is focused on managing research and investments over at the Legacy Portfolio. An investment publication designed to significantly grow investor’s wealth over time with deeply undervalued businesses. Harje also contributes his insights in Total Income, headed by income specialist Matt Hibbard. Harje loves cash-rich businesses, so he feels right at home amongst Matt’s high yielding income plays.

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