The growing divergence between equity and credit markets this year have seldom been far from our pages (especially how, over many cycles, credit has led and stocks followed at trend turns), and now it appears Barclays also recognizes this fact. As they note, in 2007, as hints of the financial crisis were unveiled, spreads in the high yield market increased sharply. Meanwhile, the equity market climbed to a new record high. Had equity investors heeded the warning being sent from high yield, significant losses may have been avoided... and currently high yield sell signals suggest equity investors should position defensively!
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You were warned:
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Between a sudden shift to a preference for "strong" balance sheet companies over "weak" balance sheet companies (the end of the dash for trash trade), and this rotation from high-yield to investment-grade, it is clear that investors are positioning defensively up-in-quality ending the constant reach-for-yield trade of the last 5 years.
Why should 'equity' investors care? The last few years' gains in stocks have been thanks massively to record amounts of buybacks (juicing EPS and also providing a non-economic bid to the market no matter what happens). This financial engineering - for even the worst of the worst credit - has been enabled by massive inflows into high-yield and leveraged loan funds, lowering funding costs and allowing CFOs to destroy/releverage their firms all in the goal of raising the share price.
Simply put - equity prices cannot rally for long without the support of high-yield credit markets - never have, never will - as they are both 'arbitrageable' bets on the same capital structure. There can be a divergence at the end of a cycle as managers get over their skis with leverage and the high yield credit market decides it has had enough risk-taking... but it only ends with equity and credit weakening together. That is the credit cycle... it cycles.