Junk Bonds


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

Bonds that have a high credit rating are known as investment-grade bonds. Bonds that are likely to default are called speculative or non-investment grade. Low-grade bonds may be issued by companies without long track records, or with questionable ability to meet their debt obligations. Because most brokers do not invest in these low-grade bonds, they are known as junk bonds. However, because of the very high interest rates these bond issues typically offer, they are also referred to as high-yield bonds.

Because junk bonds have a high default risk, they are speculative. Default risk is the chance that a company or government will be unable to pay its obligations when the bonds mature. Defaults on bonds most often occur within the first several years of a bond's issue.

Junk bonds are fixed-income instruments that carry a rating of 'BB' or lower by Standard & Poor's, or 'Ba' or below by Moody's. Junk bonds are so called because of their higher default risk in relation to investment-grade bonds.

Junk bonds are issued generally by smaller or relatively less well known firms to finance their operations, or by large and well known firms to fund leveraged buyouts. These bonds are frequently unsecured or partially secured, and (although they tend to have volatile market prices) they pay higher interest rates: 3 to 4 percentage points higher than the interest rate on blue chip corporate bonds of comparable maturity period.


                                                                               Bond Rating

Bonds are generally classified into two groups - "investment grade" bonds and "junk" bonds. Investment grade bonds include those assigned to the top four quality categories by either Standard & Poor's (AAA, AA, A, BBB) or Moody's (Aaa, Aa, A, Baa).

The term "junk" is reserved for all bonds with Standard & Poor's ratings below BBB and/or Moody's ratings below Baa. Investment grade bonds are generally legal for purchase by banks; junk bonds are not.

The specific definitions assigned to junk bond ratings by the services help define the magnitude of the risk associated with them. Because Standard & Poor's definitions are somewhat more comprehensive, they are quoted here:

BB, B, CCC, CC, C:  Debt rated BB, B, CCC, CC, and C is regarded, on balance, as predominantly speculative with respect to capacity to pay interest and repay principal in accordance with the terms of the obligation. BB indicates the lowest degree of speculation and C the highest degree of speculation. While such debt will likely have some quality and protective characteristics, these are outweighed by large uncertainties or major risk exposures to adverse conditions.

BB:  Debt rated BB has less near-term vulnerability to default than other speculative issues. However, it faces major ongoing uncertainties or exposure to adverse business, financial, or economic

conditions which could lead to inadequate capacity to meet timely interest and principal payments.
B:  Debt rated B has a greater vulnerability to default but currently has the capacity to meet interest payments and principal repayments. Adverse business, financial, or economic conditions will likely impair capacity or willingness to pay interest and repay principal.

Because a B rating is the single most common rating found in a junk bond portfolio, Moody's definition of its B rating follows:

Bonds which are rated B generally lack characteristics of the desirable investment. Assurance of interest and principal payments or of maintenance of other terms of the contract over any long period of time may be small.

To resume with Standard & Poor's:

CCC:  Debt rated CCC has a currently identifiable vulnerability to default, and is dependent upon favorable business, financial, and economic conditions to meet timely payment of interest and repayment of principal. In the event of adverse business, financial, or economic conditions, it is not likely to have the capacity to pay interest and repay principal.

D: Debt rated D is in payment default.



Sunday, 24th Apr 2016, 11:47:37 AM

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