U.S. Markets open in 7 hrs 25 mins

Debt markets open to energy names on stable high yield rates

Ingrid Pan, CFA

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, which include 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.

(Read more: Introduction [PART 1])

Yields finished slightly lower through September

Through the month of September, the yield on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) High Yield Index, the benchmark corporate credit index for non–investment-grade companies (also known as high yield companies) decreased from 6.54% to 6.47% on August 30, resulting in a slight positive for high yield companies needing debt funding. The relative stability in rates was also a positive, and the high yield debt markets were wide open to those companies needing funding (see Why high yield bond issuance has maintained its strong momentum).

For much of 2Q13, rates had been climbing rapidly, as the market worried about the Fed curtailing stimulus measures. At its lowest point, the BofAML High Yield Index reached ~5.25% (in early May) but then quickly rose to ~7.00% (in late June). During 3Q13, it seemed that the yield on the BofAML High Yield Index began to stabilize to levels generally between 6.00% and 6.50%.

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, and therefore 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 at 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 higher rates 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 that are 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 is likely to exceed internally generated cash flow (as determined by consensus estimates of EBITDA—earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization—and stated capex guidance) include Oasis Petroleum (OAS), Laredo Petroleum (LPI), Chesapeake Energy (CHK), and SandRidge Energy (SD).

(Read more: Crack Spread 101 (Part 1: What’s a crack spread?))


The decrease in volatility in yield rates over the past few weeks has been a short-term positive. However, rates spiked sharply earlier this year and 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, as had occurred 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. (For more background, see Why the bond market outlook is volatile with a downside looming). Note that many high yield energy companies are part of the Vanguard Energy ETF (VDE).

(Read more: Chesapeake Energy and its former CEO suggest huge Utica potential)

More From Market Realist