Intel: Default Risk Is Down But The Bonds Are Still Expensive

| About: Intel Corporation (INTC)

Summary

Intel's 10-year cumulative default risk is down 0.21% to 2.88% since February.

Intel's default risk over the long run ranks in the lowest 20% of its peer group firms.

The bonds are expensive, however, since 244 of 307 heavily traded bonds offered a better credit spread to default probability ratio than the best Intel bond.

In this note, we take a third look at the bonds of another iconic American industrial company, Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), ranked 8th on Forbes' ranking of the world's most valuable brands. We first reviewed Intel Corporation on October 2, 2013 and followed up with a second analysis on February 4, 2014. We seek to bring a more intense bond market perspective to the outlook for Intel Corporation in today's analysis. Today's note incorporates Intel Corporation bond price data as of June 16, 2014. A total of 150 trades were reported on 9 fixed-rate bond issues of Intel Corporation with trading volume of $86.6 million. After eliminating debt issues that were either callable or not senior debt, we analyzed 7 debt issues on which there were 121 trades for $50.1 million.

Conclusion: We believe that a strong majority of sophisticated analysts would rank Intel Corporation as an investment grade company. The long run default probability outlook ranks in the best quintile of its peer group, and default probabilities have varied in a narrow band over the last decade. They have improved substantially since February.

We remind readers that a below average default probability is not sufficient reason to buy a bond. The bond must offer "good value," which we define in terms of the ratio of credit spread to the matching maturity default probability. By this measure, Intel Corporation bonds offer a below average reward to risk ratio, with its heavily traded bonds ranking in the bottom third of the "best value" ranking on June 16th. This is the cost of Intel's world-wide brand name ranking at number 8. Some investors will pay more for this ranking. The smartest investors will not.

The Analysis

Institutional investors around the world are required to prove to their audit committees, senior management, and regulators that their investments are in fact "investment grade." For many investors, "investment grade" is an internal definition; for many banks and insurance companies, "investment grade" is also defined by regulators. We consider whether or not a reasonable U.S. bank investor would judge Intel Corporation to be "investment grade" under the June 13, 2012 rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The default probabilities used are described in detail in the daily default probability analysis posted by Kamakura Corporation. 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 (NYSE:C) bonds published December 9, 2013.

Assuming the recovery rate in the event of default would be the same on all bond issues of the same issuer with the same seniority, 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. In this note, we also analyze the maturities where the credit spread/default probability ratio is highest for Intel Corporation.

Term Structure of Default Probabilities

Maximizing the ratio of credit spread to matched-maturity default probabilities requires that default probabilities be available at a wide range of maturities. The graph below shows the current default probabilities (in green) for Intel Corporation ranging from one month to 10 years on an annualized basis versus the February 3, 2014 default probabilities (in yellow). For maturities longer than ten years, we assume that the ten year default probability is a good estimate of default risk. The default probabilities range from 0.09% at one month (down 0.07% from February) to 0.02% at 1 year (down 0.05%) and 0.29% at ten years (down 0.02% from February).

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We explain the source and methodology for the default probabilities in each Instablog published by Kamakura Corporation on Seeking Alpha.com.

Summary of Recent Bond Trading Activity

The National Association of Securities Dealers launched the TRACE (Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine) 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 7 bond issues mentioned above in this analysis. Looking at the totality of trading in Intel Corporation on June 16, the firm ranked 14th in the U.S. fixed rate corporate bond market for trading volume.

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The graph below shows 6 different yield "curves" that are relevant to a risk and return analysis of Intel Corporation bonds. These curves reflect the noise in the TRACE data, as some of the trades are small odd-lot trades. The lowest curve, in dark blue, is the yield to maturity on U.S. Treasury bonds (NYSEARCA:TLT)(NYSEARCA:TBT), interpolated from the Federal Reserve H15 statistical release for that day, which exactly matches the maturity of the traded bonds of Intel Corporation. The next curve, in the lighter blue, shows the yields that would prevail if investors shared the default probability views outlined above, assumed that recovery in the event of default would be zero, and demanded no liquidity premium above and beyond the default-adjusted risk-free yield. The orange dots graph the lowest yields reported by TRACE on that day on Intel Corporation bonds. The green dots display the trade-weighted average yield reported by TRACE on the same day. The red dots show the maximum yield in each Intel Corporation issue recorded by TRACE. The black dots and connecting black line show the yield consistent with the best fitting trade-weighted credit spread explained below.

The graph shows an increasing "liquidity premium" as maturity lengthens for the bonds of Intel Corporation. This is a pattern seen usually with firms of good credit quality. We explore this premium in detail below.

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The high, low and average credit spreads at each maturity are graphed below for Intel Corporation. We have done nothing to smooth the data reported by TRACE, which includes both large lot and small lot bond trades. For the reader's convenience, we fitted a cubic polynomial (in black) that explains the trade-weighted average spread as a trade-weighted function of years to maturity.

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Using default probabilities in addition to credit spreads, we can analyze the number of basis points of credit spread per basis point of default risk at each maturity. For Intel Corporation, the credit spread to default probability ratio ranges from 2.34 times to 4.55 times, a narrow range for the reward to risk ratio that is about the same as we reported for February 3, 2014. The ratios of spread to default probability for the senior non-call traded bond issues are shown here:

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The data from February 3, 2014 is shown here:

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The credit spread to default probability ratios are shown in graphic form below for Intel Corporation.

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Relative Value Analysis

Are these reward to risk ratios "fairly typical" as we stated in the October 2, 2013 report? Are they above or below average? There is no need to guess. The best way to answer that question is to compare them to the credit spread to default probability ratios for all fixed rate non-call senior debt issues with trading volume of more than $5 million and a maturity of at least one year on June 16. On that day, there were 307 deals that met our criterion. We ignored legacy ratings in selecting the bonds to analyze. Of the 307 bonds, only 17 were rated below the legacy rating agency definition of "investment grade."

The first graph plots the distribution of credit spreads for these 307 bond issues. The median credit spread was 0.899% and the average was 1.179%.

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We then plot a histogram of our measure of "best value," the ratio of credit spread to default probability. The median level of this ratio was 8.203 and the average was 11.736 on June 16.

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How did the heavily traded bonds of Intel Corporation rank? There were 244 out of the 307 large trades on June 16 that had better credit spread to default probability ratios than the best ratio for any of the Intel Corporation bonds. The two heavily traded Intel bonds ranked in the bottom third of our "best value" ranking, 245th and 253rd of 307 bonds.

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CUSIPs

Many investors have requested that we provide CUSIPs as part of this chart. Redistribution of CUSIPs is currently prohibited by Kamakura Corporation's contract with the data vendor. We are working hard to change this so that we may make CUSIPs available in the future. In the meantime, CUSIPs for major issuers can be found easily with an internet such on web pages like this one from the New York Stock Exchange.

Credit-Adjusted Dividend Yield

We explained in a recent post on General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) how default probabilities and the associated credit spreads for a bond issuer can be used to calculate the credit-adjusted dividend yield on a stock. That analysis makes use of a comparison between the yield on the issuer's promise to pay $1 in the future versus the yield on a similar promise by the U.S. government to pay $1 at the same time. Using the maximum smoothness approach to both the U.S. Treasury curve and to Intel Corporation credit spreads, we can generate the zero coupon bond yields on their promise to pay $1 in the future, which are shown in this graph:

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The widening of zero coupon credit spreads is important. If we discount dividend payments for maturities of 1, 10 and almost 30 years, we can solve for the "credit risk free" dividend for Intel Corporation. This would be the dividend level for a default risk-free issuer (we assume as a first approximation that the U.S. Treasury is default risk-free) that has the same present value as the flow of dividends from Intel Corporation over almost 30 years. We use this data from Seeking Alpha:

The history of Intel Corporation dividends is nicely summarized on the NASDAQ website.

Readers who prefer a real time update of the dividend yield information can see that here. After projecting the flow of dividends from Intel Corporation at the quarterly rate of $0.225 and using the present value factors implied by Intel Corporation bond prices, we find that the long-term credit-adjusted dividend yield is 2.657%, 0.338% less than the traditional dividend yield of 2.995%. Both calculations assume that the dividends remain at their current level forever, except in the credit-adjusted case we recognize that Intel Corporation may default, ending the dividend stream. The bond-based discount factors incorporate this fact. The first two years of cash flow assumed and discount factors used are shown here to illustrate the methodology:

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Credit Default Swap Analysis

The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation reports weekly on new credit default swap trading volume by reference name. For the week ended June 13, 2014 (the most recent week for which data is available), the credit default swap trading volume on Intel Corporation was zero. The number of credit default swap contracts traded on Intel Corporation since the DTCC began reporting weekly trading activity in July 2010 is also zero. The lack of trading volume doesn't necessarily indicate that a reference name is a high quality credit. More precisely, the lack of volume indicates that there is so little difference of opinion among market participants about the quality of the credit that no trades take place.

Additional Analysis

On a cumulative basis, the default probabilities for Intel Corporation range from 0.02% at 1 year (down 0.05% from February) to 2.88% at 10 years (down 0.21% from February).

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Over the last decade, the 1 year and 5 year annualized default probabilities for Intel Corporation have remained at a low level that many of the largest financial institutions in the world would envy. The 1 year default probability peaked at slightly over 0.35% in 2009. The 5 year default probability peaked at slightly under 0.25% earlier this year.

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As explained at the end of the note, the firm's default probabilities are estimated based on a rich combination of financial ratios, equity market inputs, and macro-economic factors. Over a long period of time, macro-economic factors drive the financial ratios and equity market inputs as well. If we link macro factors to the fitted default probabilities over time, we can derive the net impact of macro factors on the firm, including both their direct impact through the default probability formula and their indirect impact via changes in financial ratios and equity market inputs. The net impact of macro-economic factors driving the historical movements in the default probabilities of Intel Corporation has been derived using historical data beginning in January 1990. A key assumption of such analysis, like any econometric time series study, is that the business risks of the firm being studied are relatively unchanged during this period. With that caveat, the historical analysis shows that Intel Corporation default risk responds to changes in 4 risk factors among the 28 world-wide macro factors used by the Federal Reserve in its 2014 Comprehensive Capital Assessment and Review stress testing program. These macro factors explain 61.4% of the variation in the default probability of Intel Corporation. The remaining variation is the estimated idiosyncratic credit risk of the firm.

Intel Corporation can be compared with its peers in the same industry sector, as defined by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and reported by Compustat. For the US "semiconductor and equipment" sector, Intel Corporation has the following percentile ranking for its default probabilities among its 131 peers at these maturities:

1 month 80th percentile, down 1 point from February

1 year 35th percentile, down 19 points since February

3 years 9th percentile, down 17 points

5 years 14th percentile, down 1 point

10 years 11th percentile, down 3 points

The short-term ranking of Intel Corporation relative to its peers is high simply because business conditions are so good currently that they rank at the 99th percentile for the period from 1990 to the present. The strong corporate business conditions drive the default probabilities of all firms to low levels. Over a longer time horizon, Intel Corporation ranks in the safest quintile of its peer group from a credit risk perspective. Taking still another view, the actual and statistically predicted Intel Corporation credit ratings both show a rating strongly in the "investment grade" territory. The statistically predicted rating is 3 notches below the legacy rating, those of Moody's (NYSE:MCO) and Standard & Poor's (MHFI). The legacy credit ratings of Intel Corporation have never changed in the last decade.

Conclusions

Before reaching a final conclusion about the "investment grade" status of Intel Corporation, we look at more market data. First, we look at Intel Corporation credit spreads versus credit spreads on every bond in the technology, media, and telecommunications sector that traded on June 16:

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Intel Corporation credit spreads were clearly far lower than average for the peer group. We now look at the matched maturity default probabilities on those traded bonds for both Intel Corporation and the peer group:

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The default probabilities for Intel Corporation are in the lower range of the industry peer group. We now turn to the legacy "investment grade" peers. First we compare traded credit spreads on June 16, 2014:

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Again, Intel Corporation credit spreads are at the low end of the peer group range. Investment grade default probabilities on a matched maturity basis for the bonds traded on June 16 are shown in this graph:

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This comparison is not as favorable for Intel Corporation. It explains why Intel Corporation bonds rank so low in terms of the credit spread to default probability ratio. Intel Corporation credit spreads are low (because bond prices have been bid up relative to peers) but its default probabilities are not, squeezing the reward to risk ratio down to low levels.

We still believe that a strong majority of sophisticated analysts would rank Intel Corporation as an investment grade company. The long run default probability outlook ranks in the best quintile of its peer group, and default probabilities have varied in a narrow band over the last decade.

We remind readers that a below average default probability is not sufficient reason to buy a bond. The bond must offer "good value," which we define in terms of the ratio of credit spread to the matching maturity default probability. By this measure, Intel Corporation bonds offer a below average reward to risk ratio, with its heavily traded bonds ranking in the bottom third of the "best value" ranking on June 16th. This is the cost of Intel's worldwide brand name ranking at number 8. Some investors will pay more for this ranking. The smartest investors will not.

Author's Note

Regular readers of these notes are aware that we generally do not list the major news headlines relevant to the firm in question. We believe that other authors on Seeking Alpha, 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.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it. The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.