Think the Financial Crisis is Over? High Yield Spreads Say 'Think Again'

Includes: HYG, IEF
by: William Trent, CFA

Regular readers know I follow the spread between Baa-rated bonds and Treasuries to get a feel for how much they are willing to accept risk.

Last week, as the market rallied on the initial news of the JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM) and Fed-led rescue of Bear Stearns (NYSE:BSC) I said “The big questions are whether, how much, and how quickly the spreads will begin to narrow again. That will be the real signal from bondholders that the worst is behind us from the current crisis.”

Instead, credit spreads continued to widen. They averaged 343 basis points last week, up from 340 in the prior week.

It remains a double-edged sword. As long as the spread continues to widen, risky assets will perform poorly. However, the abnormally high risk premia we are currently seeing indicate that longer-term investors will be paid more handsomely for accepting such risks than they have been paid on average in the past.