Bond Market Battle: Berkshire Hathaway Vs. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners

| About: Berkshire Hathaway, (BRK.B)
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On August 15, 2014 there were 13,170 bond trades in 2,699 non-call fixed rate corporate issues representing $2.9 billion in notional principal.

We rank all trades with at least $5 million in daily volume by the ratio of credit spread to matched maturity default probability, our "best value" measure.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Kinder Morgan Energy Partners battle it out for the top ranking.

Two financial market titans head the list of "best value" bond trades with maturities of 20 years or more as of August 15, 2014. We last ranked the best value fixed rate corporate bond issues on July 25, 2014 for maturities of 20 years or more. Today we rank the best value corporate bond trades with daily trading volume of at least $5 million. On August 15, 2014 in the U.S. bond market, there were 13,170 bond trades in 2,699 non-call fixed rate corporate bond issues representing $2.9 billion in notional principal. Which 10 trades were the best trades of the day, and how do we decide the answer to that question?

Conclusion: We find the best-value non-call senior fixed rate 20 year maturity or longer bond trades on August 15, 2014 were issues by these firms:










Best Value 20 Year or Longer Bond Trades for August 15, 2014

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

Bond type: Fixed rate

Callability: Non-call (except for make-whole calls)

Seniority: Senior debt

Trade Volume: $5 million or more

Maturity: 20 years or longer

Ratings: Ignored

We ignored legacy ratings in making today's selection, but all but 3 of the trades meeting our criteria 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 International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), Toyota Motor Company (NYSE:TM), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO), Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), Anheuser-Busch InBev S. A. (NYSE:BUD), and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE:RDS.A). 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 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.

The most heavily traded bond issuers on August 15, 2014 are shown here:

In all, there were 33 issues that met our criteria. The distribution of credit spreads is given in this histogram:

The median credit spread was 1.646% and the average credit spread was 2.029%. The distribution of the credit spread to default probability ratio is given in this histogram:

The median credit spread to default probability ratio was 9.984 and the average was 14.895.

Here are the ranking results, listed with the best ratio numbered 1, with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP bond issue the winner at a reward to risk ratio of 35.0 and 33.9 times, just edging out Berkshire Hathaway Inc. at 31.7 times.


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. This article neatly summarizes which institutions have restricted availability of CUSIPs in order to maximize their profits as a monopoly supplier of the data. Thanks to FINRA, the CUSIPs have been put into the public domain for free via this FINRA-affiliated website.

Background on the Calculations

The use of default probabilities to make bond investors is new for many investors. For a guide to the advantages of using default probabilities in fixed income investment strategy, we recommend this overview published recently by J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Assuming the recovery rate in the event of default would be the same on all bond issues of 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.

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.

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 (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.