IBM: An Updated Bond Market Ranking

Jul.22.14 | About: International Business (IBM)

Summary

The IBM and Apple Inc. July 15 announcement brought together the 4th and 1st ranked brand names in the world, according to Forbes.

IBM default probabilities rank in the best 4% of the software and services sector, and the 1 year default probability has not exceeded 0.05% in the last decade.

In spite of the brand name and sterling default risk, IBM bonds rank well above the median when heavily-traded bonds are ranked by the spread to default probability ratio.

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced on July 15, 2014, that they would work together to develop business applications for iPhone and iPad users. International Business Machines Corp. ranks 4th and Apple Inc. ranks 1st on the Forbes ranking of the world's most valuable brands. What is the bond market view of International Business Machines Corp. in light of this blockbuster announcement between two huge brand names? In this note, we turn to the U.S. dollar bonds issued by International Business Machines Corp. and compare its current default probabilities and credit spreads with those on all heavily traded corporate fixed-rate bonds on July 21, 2014. A total of 68 trades were reported on 12 fixed-rate bond issues of International Business Machines Corp. with trading volume of $48.4 million on July 21. International Business Machines Corp. was the 14th most actively traded corporate bond issuer on July 21. 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: The default probabilities for International Business Machines Corp. are among the lowest in its peer group at all time horizons. We believe that a very strong majority of sophisticated analysts would rate the company "investment grade" under the modern Dodd-Frank definition. Regular readers will recall, however, that such a conclusion is not a sufficient reason to buy the bonds. The company's bonds offer a reward to risk ratio that is better than the median for all fixed rate corporate bonds which traded at least $5 million in volume on July 21. While "better than the median" may not excite some readers, this is a far better credit spread to default probability ratio than we have seen on other iconic brand names in this series of notes.

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 International Business Machines Corp. 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 International Business Machines Corp.

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 International Business Machines Corp. (green line) ranging from one month to 10 years on an annualized basis. We plot the current default probabilities versus the default probabilities for International Business Machines Corp. at the time of our previous study, February 7, 2014 (orange line). 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 0.00% at one month (the default probabilities were positive but round to zero at 2 decimal places) to 0.00% at 1 year (same comment) and 0.09% at ten years, up 0.01% since February. The default probabilities have dropped slightly at maturities under 7 years and risen slightly beyond 7 years since February.

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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 senior non-call debt issued by International Business Machines Corp. and traded on July 21 is reported here.

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We used 66 of the 68 trades and 11 of the 12 bonds in today's analysis.

The graph below shows 6 different yield curves that are relevant to a risk and return analysis of International Business Machines Corp. 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, interpolated from the Federal Reserve H15 statistical release for that day, which matches the maturity of the traded bonds of International Business Machines Corp. 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 International Business Machines Corp. 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 of International Business Machines Corp. bond issues 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 International Business Machines Corp. This increasing liquidity premium 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, average and fitted credit spreads at each maturity are graphed below for International Business Machines Corp. 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.

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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 International Business Machines Corp., the credit spread to default probability ratio ranges from 9.8 to more than 20 times. The ratios of spread to default probability for all traded bond issues are shown here:

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The credit spread to default probability ratios are shown in graphic form below for International Business Machines Corp.

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Relative Value Analysis

How does the credit spread to default probability ratio for International Business Machines Corp. 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 International Business Machines Corp. with all fixed-rate non-call senior bond issues with a daily trading volume of at least $5 million and a maturity of 1 year or more. The first graph shows a histogram of the credit spreads that prevailed on these issues on July 21, 2014:

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There were 263 issues that met our criteria on July 21. The median credit spread was 0.845% and the average was 1.150%. 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 4.665 and the average ratio is 12.902.

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The ratio of credit spread to default probability is shown in this chart for all of International Business Machines Corp. bonds with at least $5 million in trading volume and maturities over 1 year. The two heavily traded bonds of International Business Machines Corp. bonds rank 81st and 96th, well above the 132nd bond, the median of all heavily traded bonds when ranked by our value criterion.

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CUSIPs

Many investors have requested that we provide CUSIPs as part of this chart. Redistribution of CUSIPs is currently illegal under 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 International Business Machines Corp. 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 International Business Machines Corp., which pays its dividends once per year. 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 International Business Machines Corp. over almost 30 years. We use this data from Seeking Alpha in our analysis.

The history of International Business Machines Corp. 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 International Business Machines Corp. at the quarterly rate of $1.10 and using the present value factors implied by the firm's bond prices, we find that the long-term credit-adjusted dividend yield is 2.025%, 0.249% less than the traditional dividend yield of 2.274% (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 International Business Machines Corp. 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. We summarize the trading activity for International Business Machines Corp. in the following table, which reports on credit default swap trading for the week ended July 11, 2014 (the most recent week for which data is available). International Business Machines Corp. ranked 302nd in trading volume during the week.

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The notional principal of credit default swaps traded on International Business Machines Corp. over the 207 weeks ended July 11, 2014, is summarized in this graph:

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The number of credit default swap contracts traded on International Business Machines Corp. is shown here:

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Additional Analysis

On a cumulative basis, the current default probabilities (in green) for International Business Machines Corp. range from 0.00% at 1 year (after rounding) to 0.91% at 10 years. The February 7, 2014, cumulative default probabilities are graphed in orange.

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The 1 year default probability (in blue) peaked at slightly over 0.05% in 2008-2009. The 5 year default probability (in yellow) peaked at near 0.10% on an annualized basis in 2005.

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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 International Business Machines Corp. 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 International Business Machines Corp. default risk responds to changes in 3 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 56.2% of the variation in the default probability of International Business Machines Corp. The remaining variation is the estimated idiosyncratic credit risk of the firm.

International Business Machines Corp. 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 "software and services" sector, International Business Machines Corp. has the following percentile ranking for its default probabilities among its 313 peers at these maturities:

1 month 0th percentile, tied with many others

1 year 0th percentile, tied with many others

3 years 4th percentile,

5 years 1st percentile, fourth lowest

10 years 1st percentile, fourth lowest

International Business Machines Corp. ranks in the safest 4% of its peer group from a credit risk perspective. This is among the best default risk performance record in this series of notes.

Taking still another view, the actual and statistically predicted International Business Machines Corp. credit ratings both show a rating in the "investment grade" territory. The statistically predicted rating is 3 notches below the legacy rating from firms like the Standard & Poor's affiliate of McGraw-Hill and Moody's Investors Service. 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 "technology, media and telecommunications" peer credit spreads on July 21 are shown here in light blue, with International Business Machines Corp. credit spreads plotted in dark blue. International Business Machines Corp. credit spreads are among the very lowest in the peer group. We remind readers that the traded bond peer group generally has higher average quality than the full peer group universe.

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The matched maturity default probabilities for the "technology, media and telecommunications" peer group with bonds traded on July 21 are shown in this graph:

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International Business Machines Corp. is again at the lowest levels of the peer group by this measure. Investment grade credit spreads on all bonds traded on July 21 are shown here in light blue with International Business Machines Corp. credit spreads plotted in dark blue:

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International Business Machines Corp. credit spreads are among the lowest of the investment grade peer group. Investment grade peer group default probabilities are shown in this graph versus International Business Machines Corp.:

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International Business Machines Corp. is again near the safest part of the investment grade peer group.

Our conclusions have neither improved nor deteriorated since our February 7, 2014, report. In spite of recent financial performance, the default probabilities for International Business Machines Corp. are among the lowest in its peer group at all time horizons. We believe that a very strong majority of sophisticated analysts would rate the company "investment grade" under the modern Dodd-Frank definition. Regular readers will recall, however, that such a conclusion is not a sufficient reason to buy the bonds. The company's bonds offer a reward to risk ratio that is better than the median for all fixed rate corporate bonds which traded at least $5 million in volume on July 21. While "better than the median" may not excite some readers, this is a far better credit spread to default probability ratio than we have seen on other iconic brand names in this series of notes.

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.