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On January 23 in the U.S. bond market, there were 34,551 bond trades in 5,146 non-call fixed rate corporate bond issues representing $12,013,821,730 in notional principal. Which 20 trades were the best trades of the day, and how do we decide the answer to that question? We answer those questions in this note.

Conclusion: We find the best-value non-call fixed rate bond trades on January 23, 2014 were issues by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS), Express Scripts Holding Co. (NASDAQ:ESRX), Mohawk Industries Inc. (NYSE:MHK), American Express Credit Corp. (NYSE:AXP), Pepsico Inc. (NYSE:PEP), American Tower Corp. (NYSE:AMT), Seacor Holdings Inc. (NYSE:CKH), Enterprise Products Operating LLC (NYSE:EPD), CIT Group Inc. (NYSE:CIT), Amgen Inc. (AMGEN), and Royal Bank of Canada (NYSE:RY).

Best Value Bond Trades for January 23, 2014

In analyzing the best trades of the day, we used these criteria:

Bond type: Fixed rate

Callability: Non-call

Seniority: Senior debt

Trade Volume: $5 million or more

Maturity: 1 year or more

Ratings: Ignored

We ignored legacy ratings in making today's selection, but all but one of the best trades had an investment grade rating by the pre-Dodd Frank Act definition. We used the same criterion for "best" that we have used in recent analyses of bonds issued by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT), Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), Sprint Communications Inc. (NYSE:S), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), and General Electric Capital Corporation (NYSE:GE). That criterion is the reward to risk ratio, calculated as the ratio of credit spread to matched-maturity default probability. The default probabilities used are described in detail in the daily default probability analysis posted by Kamakura Corporation. Both the credit spreads and default probabilities are reported as percent figures. The full text of the Dodd-Frank legislation as it concerns the definition of "investment grade" is summarized at the end of our analysis of Citigroup (C) bonds published December 9, 2013. Here are the results, with a Goldman Sachs bond issue the winner at a reward to risk ratio of 240 times:

(click to enlarge)

Background on the Calculations

Assuming the recovery rate in the event of default would be the same on all bond issues, a sophisticated investor who has moved beyond legacy ratings seeks to maximize revenue per basis point of default risk from each incremental investment, subject to risk limits on macro-factor exposure on a fully default-adjusted basis.

Maximizing the ratio of credit spread to matched-maturity default probabilities requires that default probabilities be available at a wide range of maturities. We used the default probabilities supplied by Kamakura Corporation's KRIS default probability service, interpolated to a matched-maturity basis to the exact day of bond maturity. For maturities longer than ten years, we assume that the ten year default probability is a good estimate of default risk.

Bond yields are secured from TRACE. The National Association of Securities Dealers launched the TRACE (Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine) system in July 2002 in order to increase price transparency in the U.S. corporate debt market. The system captures information on secondary market transactions in publicly traded securities (investment grade, high yield and convertible corporate debt) representing all over-the-counter market activity in these bonds.

We used the trade-weighted average yield reported by TRACE for each of the bond issues analyzed. We calculated the credit spread using the matched-maturity yield on U.S. Treasury bonds, interpolated from the Federal Reserve H15 statistical release for the trade date. The source of the information on the H15 release is the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Forward-Looking Best Value Bond Selection

Today's analysis looks back at yesterday's trades. A forward-looking bond selection based on today's prices at this instant is done in the same way, with slight differences in the data sources.

Author's Note

Regular readers of these notes are aware that we generally do not list the major news headlines relevant to the firms in question. We believe that other authors on SeekingAlpha, Yahoo, at The New York Times, The Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal do a fine job of this. Our omission of those headlines is intentional. Similarly, to argue that a specific news event is more important than all other news events in the outlook for the firm is something we again believe is inappropriate for this author. Our focus is on current bond prices, credit spreads, and default probabilities, key statistics that we feel are critical for both fixed income and equity investors.

Source: 20 Best Value Bond Trades

Additional disclosure: Kamakura Corporation has business relationships with a number of organizations mentioned in the article.