Seeking Alpha
Bonds, portfolio strategy, banks, risk management
Profile| Send Message|
( followers)  

Summary

  • Amgen default probabilities rank in the best 1% of 445 pharmaceutical and health care firms at all maturities.
  • Amgen bonds also offer a very strong ratio of credit spread to default probabilities at all maturities.
  • Among heavily traded bonds, Amgen's best value bond ranks 10th of 145 with maturities over 1 year and 3rd of 33 with maturities over 20 years.

Amgen Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) seeks to unlock the potential of biology for patients suffering from serious illnesses by discovering, developing, manufacturing and delivering innovative human therapeutics. In this note, we turn to the U.S. dollar bonds issued by Amgen Inc. and compare its current default probabilities and credit spreads with those on all heavily traded corporate fixed-rate bonds on June 27, 2014. A total of 57 trades were reported on 11 fixed-rate bond issues of Amgen Inc., with June 27 trading volume of $31.3 million. We use this information for three purposes: to evaluate the risk and return on the firm's bonds, to evaluate the firm's credit risk-adjusted dividend yield, and to reach a conclusion on investment grade status by the modern "Dodd-Frank" definition.

Conclusion: It is no surprise that we believe that a strong majority of sophisticated analysts would rank Amgen Inc. as "investment grade" because its default probabilities rank in the best 1% of the healthcare and pharmaceuticals peer group. We remind readers that a low default probability is not sufficient reason to buy a bond. The bond must show "good value" as well. In this note, we define "good value" as a strong ratio of credit spread to matched-maturity default probability. On June 27, only 9 of 145 heavily traded bonds offered a better credit spread to default probability ratio than the best Amgen Inc. bond issue for maturities of 1 year or more. Only 2 of 33 heavily traded bonds with maturities over 20 years showed better value than the best Amgen bond. The Amgen bond issues are a very rare combination of very low risk and very high value.

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 Amgen Inc. to be "investment grade" under the June 13, 2012 rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. For a discussion of the implications of the Dodd-Frank Act on the definition of investment grade, see our post on Citigroup in December.

Assuming the recovery rate in the event of default would be the same on all bond issues of the same seniority for the same issuer, 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 to default probability ratio is highest for Amgen Inc.

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 for Amgen Inc. (green line) ranging from one month to 10 years on an annualized basis. We plot the current default probabilities versus the default probabilities for Amgen Inc. six months earlier on December 27, 2013 (orange line). For maturities longer than ten years, we assume that the ten-year default probability is a good estimate of default risk. The current Amgen Inc. default probabilities range from 0.00% at one month (the default probabilities are 0.0011% but round to zero at two decimal places) to 0.00% at 1 year (same comment) and 0.07% at ten years.

(click to enlarge)

We also explain the source and methodology for the default probabilities in each Instablog posted by Kamakura Corporation on SeekingAlpha.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. The total of all fixed rate debt issued by Amgen Inc. and traded on June 27 is reported here. Amgen Inc. was the 18th most actively traded issuer.

(click to enlarge)

After eliminating callable bonds and non-senior bonds from the total for Amgen Inc., we analyzed 55 trades on 9 issues with a notional principal traded of $31.3 million.

The graph below shows 6 different yield curves that are relevant to a risk and return analysis of Amgen Inc. 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 matches the maturity of the traded bonds of Amgen Inc. 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 line graphs the lowest yield reported by TRACE on that day on Amgen Inc. bonds. The green line displays the value-weighted average yield reported by TRACE on the same day. The red line is the maximum yield in each Amgen Inc. bond issue recorded by TRACE. The black dots and connecting black line represent the yields consistent with a trade-weighted fitted credit spread we discuss below.

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

(click to enlarge)

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

(click to enlarge)

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 Amgen Inc., the credit spread to default probability ratio ranges from 19.8 to more than 30 times. The ratios of spread to default probability for all traded bond issues are shown here:

(click to enlarge)

The credit spread to default probability ratios are shown in graphic form below for Amgen Inc.

(click to enlarge)

Relative Value Analysis

How does the credit spread to default probability ratio for Amgen Inc. compare to other bonds available in the market place? Is it high, low or average? We answer that question by comparing the credit spread to default probability ratio for Amgen Inc. with all 145 fixed-rate non-call senior bond issues with a daily trading volume of at least $5 million on June 27 and a maturity of 1 year or more. The first graph shows a histogram of the credit spreads that prevailed on these issues on June 27, 2014:

(click to enlarge)

The median credit spread was 0.901% and the average was 1.290%. The distribution of the reward to risk ratio, the credit spread divided by the matched maturity default probability, is shown in the next histogram. The median ratio is 11.81 and the average ratio is 18.43.

(click to enlarge)

The ratio of credit spread to default probability is shown in this chart for all of the Amgen Inc. bonds with at least $5 million in trading volume. The two heavily traded Amgen Inc. bonds rank 10th and 30th, well above the 73rd bond, the median of all heavily traded bonds when ranked by our value criterion. Looking at maturities of 20 years or more, the Amgen 6% bonds due June 1, 2037 rank third in that heavily traded bond peer group.

(click to enlarge)

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 Amgen Inc. 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:

(click to enlarge)

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 Amgen Inc. 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 Amgen Inc. over almost 30 years. We use this data from SeekingAlpha.com:

The history of Amgen Inc.'s 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 Amgen Inc. at the quarterly rate of $0.61 and using the present value factors implied by Amgen Inc. bond prices, we find that the long term credit-adjusted dividend yield is 1.765%, 0.293% less than the traditional dividend yield of 2.058% (note that the yield on the Seeking Alpha website is different because of lags in updating the figure as the stock price changes). Both calculations assume that the dividends remain at their current level forever, except in the credit-adjusted case we recognize that Amgen Inc. may default, ending the dividend stream. The bond-based discount factors incorporate this fact. We show the calculation below for just the first 24 months of cash flows.

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 20, 2014 (the most recent week for which data is available), the credit default swap trading volume on Amgen Inc. was 66 trades for $378.3 million, ranking the firm 115th among 977 counterparties with at least one trade during the week.

(click to enlarge)

The notional principal traded weekly in the credit default swap market on Amgen Inc. is shown in this graph of data from the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation:

(click to enlarge)

The number of credit default swaps traded weekly on Amgen Inc. is shown in this history graph:

(click to enlarge)

Additional Analysis

On a cumulative basis, the current default probabilities (in green) for Amgen Inc. range from 0.00% at 1 year (after rounding) to 0.68% at 10 years. The December 24, 2013 cumulative default probabilities are graphed in orange.

(click to enlarge)

Over the last decade, the 1-year and 5-year annualized default probabilities for Amgen Inc. spiked during the credit crisis. The 1-year default probability (in blue) peaked at slightly over 0.07% in 2008-2009. The 5-year default probability (in yellow) peaked at almost 0.09% on an annualized basis at the same time. This credit crisis experience is among the best we have analyzed in this series of notes.

(click to enlarge)

The firm's default probabilities are estimated based on a rich combination of financial ratios, equity market inputs, and macro-economic factors. For an explanation, see the references in each Instablog posted by Kamakura Corporation. 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 Amgen Inc. 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 Amgen Inc.'s default risk responds to changes in 6 risk factors among the macro factors used by the Federal Reserve in its 2014 Comprehensive Capital Assessment and Review stress testing program. These macro factors explain 46.7% of the variation in the default probability of Amgen Inc. The remaining variation is the estimated idiosyncratic credit risk of the firm.

Amgen Inc. can be compared with its peers in the same industry sector, as defined by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and reported by Compustat. For the USA "pharmaceuticals and biotechnology" sector, Amgen Inc. has the following percentile ranking for its default probabilities among its 445 peers at these maturities:

1 month 0th percentile, tied with many firms

1 year 0th percentile, tied with many firms

3 years 1st percentile

5 years 1st percentile

10 years 1st percentile

Over all time horizons, Amgen Inc. ranks in the safest 1% of its peer group from a credit risk perspective.

Taking still another view, the actual and statistically predicted Amgen Inc. credit ratings both show a rating in the "investment grade" territory. The statistically predicted rating is 2 notches below the legacy rating from firms like the Standard & Poor's affiliate of McGraw-Hill (NYSE:MHFI) and Moody's Investors Service (NYSE:MCO). The legacy ratings of the company have changed once in the last decade.

Conclusions

We postpone our conclusions briefly to view some more facts. The "healthcare and pharmaceuticals" peer credit spreads on June 27 are shown here in light blue, with Amgen Inc.'s credit spreads plotted in dark blue. Amgen Inc.'s credit spreads are near the median. We remind readers that the traded bond peer group generally has higher average quality than the full peer group universe.

(click to enlarge)

The matched maturity default probabilities for the "healthcare and pharmaceuticals" peer group with bonds traded on June 27 are shown in this graph:

(click to enlarge)

Amgen Inc. is among the lowest default probabilities of the peer group by this measure. Investment grade credit spreads on all bonds traded on June 27 are shown here in light blue with Amgen Inc. credit spreads plotted in dark blue:

(click to enlarge)

Amgen Inc. falls well below the middle of the investment grade peer group. Investment grade peer group default probabilities are shown in this graph versus Amgen Inc.:

(click to enlarge)

Amgen Inc. is again near the safest part of the investment grade peer group.

It is no surprise that we believe that a strong majority of sophisticated analysts would rank Amgen Inc. as "investment grade" because its default probabilities rank in the best 1% of the healthcare and pharmaceuticals peer group. We remind readers that a low default probability is not sufficient reason to buy a bond. The bond must show "good value" as well. In this note, we define "good value" as a strong ratio of credit spread to matched-maturity default probability. On June 27, only 9 of 145 heavily traded bonds offered a better credit spread to default probability ratio than the best Amgen Inc. bond issue for maturities of 1 year or more. Only 2 of 33 heavily traded bonds with maturities over 20 years showed better value than the best Amgen bond. The Amgen bond issues are a very rare combination of very low risk and very high value.

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.

Source: Amgen Inc. Bonds: A Rare Combination Of Low Risk And High Value