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From time to time we comment on high yield bonds (sometimes called “junk bonds”) because they are akin to turnaround stocks in several ways. While they are called bonds, many high yield issues have return--and risk--characteristics closer to stocks than to other fixed income instruments. Also, many companies that issue high yield debt are in the process of turning around, or at least trying to. Some high yield issuers don’t make it, file for Chapter 11 and eventually provide interesting post-bankruptcy stock potential turnaround opportunities.
Last year at this time we urged caution in approaching high yield bonds, but our concerns proved to be unfounded as high yield had a very strong year in 2012. As measured by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch High Yield Master Index, junk bonds gained an average of 15.4% last year. In our defense, we did say “Maybe the high yield market can squeeze out another decent year before things head south…”
This year we urge even more caution towards high yield bonds. The yields on junk bonds are at record low levels--below six percent--and we believe that at those levels you are not being adequately compensated for the risks you are taking. The risks in high yield bonds right now come from a couple of different sources (learn more about those risk sources).
While it’s not certain that the risks will materialize this year, we feel that the longer the current boom in high yield continues, the greater the risk of negative surprises. As we said above, at current low yields, holders of junk bonds are not getting adequately compensated for that risk.