Increased high yield rates in August mean higher interest expense

Corporate credit yields indicate the rate at which companies can borrow money

“Corporate credit yields” is a general term for the rate at which companies can issue debt (that is, borrow money). Higher corporate credit yields mean more expensive borrowing rates for companies, so higher yields are generally negative for companies—especially those with high funding needs, including many upstream energy producers. These needs might include expensive capital expenditure (spending and investment) programs, acquisitions, and refinancing of debt coming due. Inversely, lower yields benefit companies, as they result in lower borrowing costs.

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Yields finished slightly lower but are up 20 basis points over August

The yield on the BofA Merrill Lynch High Yield Index, the benchmark corporate credit index for non–investment grade companies (also known as high yield companies) decreased from 6.59% on August 23 to 6.54% on August 30, resulting in a slight negative for high yield companies needing debt funding.

For much of 2Q13, rates had been climbing rapidly, as the market worried about the Fed Reserve curtailing stimulus measures. During 3Q13, it seemed that the yield on the BofAML High Yield Index began to stabilize or decrease. However, since mid-July, rates have again begun to climb, with the High Yield index as low as 6.15% in mid-July but reaching ~6.50% currently.

The BofA Merrill Lynch High Yield Master Index is used as a gauge for where rates for high yield companies are trading

High yield is a term used to classify companies with below a BBB rating from rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s or Moody’s, so high yield companies are generally companies with worse credit quality (which could be due to a number of factors such as size, leverage, or diversification). You can monitor general corporate credit yields through an index such as the BofA Merrill Lynch Index, which aggregates data from many corporate bonds.

Upstream independent energy companies often spend more than internally generated cash flow, so they must look to capital markets to raise funds

Investors should consider monitoring where corporate yields are, as a material move upward in borrowing rates is a negative for companies, as we saw during some periods this year. This is especially true for companies that will need to raise money in the debt market and may be forced to do so at a higher rate if yields move upward.

Companies with planned capital spending above cash flow, for instance, will need to source the cash shortfall somewhere, and one option would be to issue bonds in the debt capital markets. Other companies that might need to access the debt markets include companies planning to make an acquisition, or companies with bond maturities coming due that need to be refinanced (and likely not enough cash on the balance sheet to simply pay the bond off). Many upstream independent energy companies spend more than internally generated cash flow—especially those in high growth mode with significant expansion and development plans.

Companies whose  capex (capital expenditure) is likely to exceed internally generated cash flow (as determined by consensus estimates of EBITDA and stated capex guidance) include Oasis Petroleum (OAS), Laredo Petroleum (LPI), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), and SandRidge Energy (SD).

Outlook

The movement lower in high yield rates over the past week was a slight short-term positive. However,  rates have risen steadily since mid-July. This is a medium-term negative for high yield companies—especially those needing to raise debt funding. Given the possibility of sudden rate movements like those we saw earlier this year, this is a factor that investors may wish to monitor, especially if they expect a company will need access to the debt market in the near future. Note that many high yield energy companies are part of the Vanguard Energy ETF (VDE). For more on high yield and debt markets, please see Downside potential in September for high-yield bonds.