US junk bond sell-off resumes after Fed snaps summer rally

Risky US corporate borrowers are facing a renewed jump in borrowing costs as concerns that further sharp Federal Reserve rate rises will weigh heavily on the world’s biggest economy grip markets.

Yields on US junk bonds have jumped to almost 8.6 per cent from a mid-August low of 7.4 per cent, according to an Ice Data Services index. The rise reflects a significant decline in the price of the debt.

The fresh selling in high-yield bonds comes after a brief summer respite, in which most risky assets recovered somewhat from a dismal first half of 2022. Traders had hoped the Fed would take a softer approach to rate rises, but concerns the central bank will step up its fight against inflation have shattered the calm.

“As this summer of optimism draws to a close, the Fed path and recession fears are returning to the fore,” said Srikanth Sankaran, strategist at Morgan Stanley.

As a result, investors have raced out of funds that buy junk-rated US corporate bonds, with $8.7bn withdrawn from accounts over the past two weeks, according to flows tracked by EPFR. Redemptions in the past week ranked as the sixth-biggest weekly outflow since the coronavirus pandemic rocked US financial markets in 2020.

Lotfi Karoui, a strategist at Goldman Sachs, said Jay Powell’s speech in late August at the Jackson Hole economic summit in which the Fed chair vowed to “keep at it” in the central bank’s tightening of monetary policy to fight inflation spooked investors.


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