Corporate Debt Picks for a High Risk Market

by: SA Eli Hoffmann

Annotated article summary from this weekend's Barron's; receive all our Barron's summaries by signing up here:

Beware the Credit Bubble by Jacqueline Doherty

Summary: Barron's interviews Carol Levinson, an investment-grade bond analyst who helped found research firm Gimme Credit in 1994. She says risk premium on junk bonds has dropped from 13-17% in the 1980s to 7-10% now, fueling the huge market for debt-financed LBOs, stock buybacks and spinoffs. Capital markets have ceased punishing companies for a loss in credit quality; the spread between high-grade and low-grade debt is small. Companies under LBO threat make for risky debt investments: when Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (HET) LBO rumors surfaced in the fall, its bonds lost $0.10 on the dollar overnight. Bond safehavens include aerospace and defense companies like Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA); its highly organized workforce is an LBO-deterrent. Conversely, some companies' debt can be had for cheap due to (what she sees as likely-unfounded) LBO threat: She likes the bonds of Motorola Inc. (MOT) (it's improved so much there's not much left for a buyer to do), First Data Corp. (FDC-OLD), ALLTEL Corp. (NYSE:AT), Sara Lee Corp. (SLE), Deere & Company (NYSE:DE), Safeway Inc. (NYSE:SWY).

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