ANGL: Question & Answer
October 18, 2021
Read Time 18 MIN
Over time, fallen angel bonds have demonstrated strong performance driven by the systematic buying of oversold bonds at deep discounts, contrarian sector exposure and higher quality tilt versus the broad high yield market.1 The VanEck® Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF (ANGL®) seeks to replicate as closely as possible, before fees and expenses, the price and yield performance of the ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index (H0CF), which is comprised of below investment grade corporate bonds denominated in U.S. dollars, issued in the U.S. domestic market and that were rated investment grade at the time of issuance. This blog is intended to answer frequently asked questions on fallen angel bonds and VanEck’s Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF (ANGL).
- What are fallen angel high yield bonds?
- How have fallen angel bonds performed historically relative to the broad high yield market?
- What drives outperformance?
- What is the most important return driver?
- What will be the main driver of outperformance going forward?
- How persistent can this outperformance be, given that everyone knows about it?
- I’m worried about rising rates. Would a short duration or leveraged loan strategy be a better option if interest rates rise?
- What are the eligibility rules for bonds entering ANGL’s index?
- What percentage of broad BB is fallen angel bonds? What is ANGL’s historical allocation to CCC and below?
- In what scenarios will fallen angel bonds underperform?
- How to buy VanEck ETFs?
What are fallen angel high yield bonds?
Fallen angels are bonds that were originally issued with investment grade ratings but later downgraded to non-investment grade or high yield. They are part of the overall high yield universe, but unique in that they were not originally issued with high yield ratings, which is the case for approximately 87% of the overall market.2 The unique value proposition of fallen angel bonds originates from the crossover between two distinct markets: the investment grade market and the high yield market. These markets have two different investor bases, with unique objectives, risk constraints and investment policy statements. As a result, the crossover from investment grade to high yield can have an impact on a bond's value, since investment grade investors who cannot, or will not, hold a high yield bond must sell it in the marketplace. Because the market tends to anticipate rating actions, bonds are typically sold and prices are driven down prior to the actual downgrade, which is the point at which a fallen angel strategy will buy the bond. On average, prices tend to recover following the downgrade, suggesting that the bonds were oversold. In addition, the fact that fallen angel bonds were originally issued with investment grade ratings means that the fallen angel universe is comprised of a distinct set of issuers with unique characteristics versus the broader high yield bond market. For example, fallen angel bonds typically have higher average credit quality versus the broad high yield bond market.3
How have fallen angel bonds performed historically relative to the broad high yield market?
Fallen angel high yield bonds have historically outperformed the broad high yield bond market as well as the Morningstar High Yield Bond Category, which is predominantly represented by actively managed strategies.4 Since 2003, fallen angel high yield bonds have provided nearly 300 basis points of annual outperformance versus the broad high yield market and have also provided higher risk-adjusted returns as measured by the Sharpe ratio.5
Fallen Angel U.S. High Yield Index Historic Performance
Source: ICE and Morningstar. Data as of 9/30/2021. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. Index performance is not illustrative of fund performance. Fund performance current to the most recent month end is available by visiting vaneck.com. Historical information is not indicative of future results; current data may differ from data quoted. Indexes are unmanaged and are not securities in which an investment can be made. Current data may differ from data quoted. Past performance is no guarantee of future results; VanEck Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF commenced on 4/10/2012. An investor cannot invest directly in an index. The results assume that no cash was added to or assets withdrawn from the Index. Index returns do not represent Fund returns. The Index does not charge management fees or brokerage expenses, nor does the Index lend securities, and no revenues from securities lending were added to the performance shown. Broad high yield bond market and active managers are represented by the ICE BofA US High Yield Index and Morningstar High-Yield Bond category average, respectively. See disclaimers and index descriptions at the end of this presentation.
Fallen angel bonds have outperformed in a variety of market environments, including recessions and expansions, rising and falling interest rate environments and periods with both widening and tightening credit spreads. Fallen angel bonds have outperformed the broad high yield market in 13 of the last 17 calendar years, including 7 of the 9 years in which interest rates have risen significantly, despite having a longer duration versus the broad high yield market.6 Fallen angel bonds have also consistently outperformed in tight spread environments. From 2003 to 9/30/2021, there have been five distinct periods in which spreads were tighter than the average over that period, with an average duration of 2.3 years (including the most recent period which began in July 2020). Fallen angel bonds outperformed broad U.S. high yield bonds in each of these periods by an average of 4.7%.7
One measure of consistency is “batting average,” which measures how often a strategy has outperformed a benchmark. The below chart highlights the consistency of outperformance of fallen angel bonds relative to the broad U.S. high yield market, which is nearly 80% over rolling 1-year periods and increases with time.
Success Rate Increases with Time
Source: Morningstar as of 9/30/2021. Chart based on the performance of the ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index versus the ICE BofA US High Yield Index Past performance is not indicative of future results. See disclaimers and index descriptions at the end of this presentation. Batting Average is measured by dividing the number of periods a portfolio or investment strategy outperforms a benchmark by the total number of periods.
What drives outperformance?
We have identified three long-term drivers of outperformance of fallen angel bonds relative to the broad high yield market:
Timing: Fallen angel bonds present a unique value proposition that may provide outperformance potential to a high yield allocation, as these bonds tend to be discounted when entering the fallen angel index. On average, fallen angel bonds decline in value by approximately 8% in the six months prior to being downgraded to high yield, as the market anticipates rating agency actions.8 At that point, a fallen angel strategy buys the bond. In addition, fallen angel bond prices typically recover nearly all of this loss over the subsequent six months after being downgraded, indicating that the bonds were oversold, which allows fallen angel investors to benefit from this price recovery.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, fallen angel strategies tend to outperform in periods when there are higher volumes of downgrades because there is greater exposure to this price recovery. In 2020, the market experienced the largest wave of downgrades over the history of the fallen angel index, driven by the pandemic-induced economic downturn, which in turn drove outperformance that year.
Higher quality: Because bonds are typically downgraded one notch at a time, fallen angel bonds tend to enter the index with BB ratings, the highest rating within high yield. Further, they tend to remain higher rated. On average, about 70% of the fallen angel universe has historically been concentrated in BB rated bonds since 2003, compared to approximately 40% within the broad high yield universe. Currently, 94% of the fallen angel universe is BB rated, versus 54% of the broad high yield market.9
Fallen Angel U.S. High Yield Index vs The Broad Market Index Rating Breakdown
Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
How does this impact returns? In two important ways, each of which may contribute depending on the market environment. In periods of volatility, higher rated bonds can outperform by avoiding the most severe selloffs that riskier bonds may experience. As a result, a higher allocation to BB rated bonds versus lower rated bonds can provide protection in these periods, although performance may lag a riskier portfolio during “risk-on” periods. Another way the higher quality tilt can provide outperformance is through a higher exposure to “rising stars,” or bonds that are upgraded from high yield to investment grade. Similar to how the market’s anticipation of fallen angel bonds historically has driven a selloff prior to downgrade, the market also tends to anticipate rising stars prior to the upgrade. This includes investment grade managers buying these bonds and pushing up the price. Historically, rising stars have returned approximately 7% in the 12 months ahead of an upgrade to investment grade, while the broad high yield market returned -1% on average over the same periods.10 Accordingly, greater exposure to these rising stars can be a source of outperformance, particularly in an improving credit environment where upgrades outnumber downgrades.
Fallen Angel Average Price Return Prior to Credit Rating Upgrades
as of 9/30/2021
As stated above, rating actions tend to come one notch at a time, so higher exposure to BB rated bonds naturally provides greater exposure. Since 2003, fallen angel bonds have had an average ascension rate to investment grade of 5.4%, which is approximately two times that of the broad high yield market.11
Contrarian sector exposures: Differentiated sector exposures - in particular, being underweight poorly performing sectors and overweight high returning sectors - have been a significant driver of outperformance of fallen angel bonds. The often contrarian portfolio positioning of fallen angel bonds is a result of the segment’s focus on bonds that are being downgraded to high yield. Although company-specific downgrades due to idiosyncratic factors can often lead to a company becoming a fallen angel, there are also macroeconomic and longer term structural changes that can impact entire sectors. As a result, downgrades often are concentrated within certain sectors, and because rating agency actions tend to lag the market, downgrades tend to actually occur after a sector’s fundamentals have bottomed out. When this occurs, a fallen angel strategy may overweight a sector relative to the broad high yield market. Because fallen angel bonds are typically bought at deep discounts prior to experiencing a price recovery, this approach can (and historically has) resulted in greater participation in the recovery of a beaten-down sector.
The energy sector provides a useful example of how this sector positioning can play out. From 2011 to mid-2014, oil generally was priced at $80 to $100 per barrel. The industry was experiencing growth and pursuing shareholder friendly strategies while taking on significant amounts of leverage to take advantage of the lower cost of funding, as evidenced by gradually tightening spreads over the period. Because “hot” sectors do not usually experience systemic downgrades, fallen angel bonds were underweight energy for a prolonged period of time. Oil prices dropped precipitously beginning in 2014 and dipped below $30 per barrel in early 2016, while spreads widened significantly through early 2016, hitting distressed levels on average. At this point, energy sector bonds were at their lows and a wave of downgrades swept through the sector. Fallen angel bonds went from being almost 10% underweight the sector versus the broad high yield market to being nearly 13% overweight.12 A fallen angel strategy was able to take advantage of elevated yields and the subsequent recovery over the following three years as leverage in the sector was reduced and conditions normalized.
What is the most important return driver?
Each of the return drivers mentioned above can contribute significantly to performance depending on the market environment. The below chart provides a stylized representation of the various stages of the credit cycle, and the characteristics typically associated with those stages. The chart also lists the three sources of return that have driven the differentiated performance of fallen angel bonds historically, and which are likely to dominate in a given stage of the cycle. Last year was undoubtedly characterized by an unusually compressed cycle, where we saw contraction, trough and the beginnings of a sharp recovery. Overall, new fallen angel bonds drove performance through the trough, while contrarian sector exposures (primarily overweight to cyclical sectors such as energy) provided a boost as the recovery began.
Fallen Angel Bonds Through the Credit Cycle
The key point is that different market environments favor these return drivers differently. As a result, sources of return are diversified, which is a reason fallen angel bonds have been able to provide outperformance in different market environments. Further, these drivers can help explain how fallen angel bonds may continue to provide outperformance even in rising rate or tight spread environments. In these market environments, which may be associated with the later stages of an economic expansion, factors such as sector differentiation and rising stars may help to offset the negative impact of higher rates on prices.
What will be the main driver of outperformance going forward?
The large wave of downgrades in 2020 resulted in the fallen angel technical effect being the primary driver of returns that year, due not only to the volume of downgrades, but also to deeper than average discounts. Sector differentiation also played a role in 2020 and through Q3 2021, particularly the overweight to the energy sector.
For the foreseeable future, we believe sector positioning may continue to drive outperformance, particularly as economically sensitive sectors continue to benefit from the ongoing economic recovery. Increasingly, we believe that rising stars will also be a driver of outperformance over the next 6-18 months. Credit trends have improved with the strong economic recovery, resulting in very low default rates and a higher number of upgrades relative to downgrades. Ratings agencies and sell-side research desks continue to believe that there will be a growing number of rising stars within the next few years. Given that the number of actual issues upgraded from high yield to investment grade has been limited so far in 2021, we believe that we are in the early stages of the upgrade cycle.
How persistent can this outperformance be, given that everyone knows about it?
The historical outperformance of fallen angel bonds is well established, with a long track record of consistent outperformance. Why has this persisted and why hasn’t it been arbitraged away? We believe there are several structural reasons why the main drivers of outperformance can continue. First, the U.S. investment grade market is more than five times larger than the high yield market.13 Investment grade issuers tend to be larger and have greater access to debt financing at lower costs, and large institutional investors such as insurance companies, pensions, banks and more recently even central banks are active buyers in the investment grade market. High yield issuers tend to be smaller, and high yield is generally not a core allocation for most fixed income investors. As a result, the difference in size of the two markets makes intuitive sense and we believe the fallen angel technical effect, characterized by more sellers than buyers, can be expected to remain in place. The higher quality and sector differentiation are largely a result of these same dynamics, and we would expect these to remain robust drivers of returns. It is difficult, therefore, to foresee structural changes that may impact these return drivers anytime soon. Active high yield bond managers may use fallen angels as a source of alpha within a broad high yield bond strategy. However, we believe fallen angel bonds will continue to play minor roles for most high yield strategies that are not dedicated fallen angel mandates. First, recall that fallen angel bonds are only about 13% of the overall market, and at times, this has been closer to 10% or even less. For a high yield strategy benchmarked to the broad index, a significant overweight may introduce tracking error. Second, the contrarian nature of fallen angel bonds at the issuer and sector level can also introduce significant tracking error to an actively managed strategy that is benchmarked to the broad market, and from a behavioral standpoint can be difficult to implement given the negative sentiment that typically exists at the time of downgrade. For these reasons, we believe the fallen angel drivers of performance can continue to persist, and we believe that a rules-based approach that systematically buys deeply discounted bonds is a superior method that avoids the potential biases that may be introduced by allowing more discretion.
I’m worried about rising rates. Would a short duration or leveraged loan strategy be a better option if interest rates rise?
Shortening duration within a high yield portfolio will reduce the impact of rising rates, but investors should also consider other risk and return impacts that may result from simply switching to a less rate sensitive strategy. In terms of credit quality, for example, a move down in duration will generally result in higher exposure to lower rated issuers. Unlike the 94% of BB rated exposure provided by fallen angel bonds, the majority of the liquid loan universe is in single B issuers, with nearly all loans considered to be “cov-lite,” meaning fewer restrictions on the borrower and fewer protections for investors.14 In the short duration high yield bond space, investors are similarly taking on additional credit risk, with 13% of the market in CCC and below rated bonds and only about 51% in BB rated bonds.15 Investors should also consider the economic and market conditions that are resulting in rates moving upwards. If it is driven by strong economic growth and occurs in an orderly manner, longer duration fallen angel bonds may potentially outperform less rate sensitive strategies as there may be greater sensitivity to spread tightening, which typically occurs in such environments. At a minimum, spread tightening would at least dampen the impact of rising rates. On the other hand, if rates move upwards in a more volatile fashion, the higher quality of fallen angel bonds may provide some protection against a sharp selloff in credit. Lastly, investors should consider liquidity risks, particularly when investing in leveraged loans, which often have extended settlement periods and a less active secondary market.
Perhaps for these reasons, fallen angel bonds have performed well against these shorter duration alternatives in rising rate periods. Since 2003, rates have risen significantly in nine calendar years, and fallen angel bonds have outperformed both leveraged loans in six of those years, and outperformed short duration high yield in eight of those years.16 So on a historical basis there would have been a performance give-up in the majority of rising rate periods resulting from switching to either of these lower duration alternatives. Investors concerned about rising rates may consider partially allocating to these types of strategies in order to lower overall duration, but maintain fallen angel exposure to reduce potential costs and increase the overall credit quality of their high yield portfolio.
What are the eligibility rules for bonds entering ANGL’s index?
A bond that was originally issued with an investment grade rating must become non-investment grade to become eligible for index inclusion. A bond is considered non-investment grade if its composite rating is below BBB-, based on the average of S&P, Moody’s and Fitch. Therefore, a bond’s composite rating is based on both the number of ratings it has and the various ratings among the agencies. Assuming a non-investment grade bond meets other index criteria, including a minimum face amount of at least $250 million, it will join the index on the last business day of the month.
To be eligible for the ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index, a bond must be issued in the U.S. domestic market, but does not necessarily need to be issued by a U.S. based company. The index rules specify that the issuer’s risk exposure must be to a country that is a member of the FX-G10. Essentially, this means that developed markets issuers are eligible if they issue a USD bond in the U.S. market, and the bond satisfies other index criteria. Currently, the index is comprised approximately 87% of U.S. issuers.17 Accordingly, if an issuer is based in an emerging market it will not be eligible for inclusion in the index or for most U.S. high yield bond benchmarks. This is in contrast to U.S. investment grade bond indices, which do include emerging markets issuers.
What percentage of broad BB is fallen angel bonds? What is ANGL’s historical allocation to CCC and below?
Currently, fallen angel bonds are 94% BB rated.18 This is due to the large wave of downgrades experienced in 2020, which saw a record number of investment grade companies downgraded to high yield, typically with BB ratings. Although the current exposure to the BB rated bucket is higher than it has been historically, fallen angel bonds have historically provided a structural overweight towards BB rated bonds relative to the broad high yield market. Since 2003, the average weight of the fallen angel index to BB rated bonds was 70%, 26% higher than the broad high yield market index.
As a result, the weight towards riskier lower rated bonds has been lower. On average, since 2003 fallen angel bonds have had a 10% allocation to bonds rated CCC and below, compared to 18% of the broad high yield market. As of September 30, 2021, this difference was even more dramatic: less than 2% of fallen angel bonds fell into this category, compared to 12% of the broad high yield market.19
In what scenarios will fallen angel bonds underperform?
Despite the outperformance of fallen angel bonds, there may be environments in which they can lag the broad high yield market. As previously mentioned, fallen angel bonds have a longer duration and can underperform in rising rate environments. To the extent a rising rate environment is also characterized by stronger economic growth and improving credit conditions, spread tightening may offset this impact as well as a potentially higher rate of rising stars. However, all else being equal, a longer duration will detract from performance if rates are increasing. In “risk-on” environments where riskier securities (e.g., CCC rated bonds) rally strongly, the higher quality tilt of fallen angel bonds may also lead to underperformance versus the broader market. Lastly, although sector differentiation has historically provided outperformance by overweighting sectors experiencing a recovery and underweighting sectors that are seeing increasing leverage and tighter spreads, differences in portfolio positioning can certainly result in underperformance depending on the dynamics in a particular sector.
How can investors buy VanEck ETFs?
1 References throughout to Fallen Angel bonds are based on the ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index (H0CF) and the Broad U.S. High Yield by ICE BofA High Yield Index (H0A0). Fallen Angel U.S. High Yield index data on and prior to February 28, 2020 reflects that of the ICE BofA US Fallen Angel High Yield Index (H0FA). From February 28, 2020 forward, the Fallen Angel U.S. High Yield index data reflects that of the Fund's underlying index, the ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index (H0CF). Fallen Angel U.S. High Yield index data history which includes periods prior to February 28, 2020 links H0FA and H0CF and is not intended for third party use.
2 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
3 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
4 Source: ICE and Morningstar. Data as of 9/30/2021. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. Index performance is not illustrative of fund performance. Fund performance current to the most recent month end is available by visiting vaneck.com. Historical information is not indicative of future results; current data may differ from data quoted. Indexes are unmanaged and are not securities in which an investment can be made. Current data may differ from data quoted. Past performance is no guarantee of future results; VanEck Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF commenced on 4/10/2012. An investor cannot invest directly in an index. The results assume that no cash was added to or assets withdrawn from the Index. Index returns do not represent Fund returns. The Index does not charge management fees or brokerage expenses, nor does the Index lend securities, and no revenues from securities lending were added to the performance shown. Broad high yield bond market and active managers are represented by the ICE BofA US High Yield Index and Morningstar High-Yield Bond category average, respectively. See disclaimers and index descriptions at the end of this presentation.
5 Source: FactSet, ICE Data. Data as of 9/30/2021. Sharpe ratio is the average return earned in excess of the risk-free rate per unit of volatility, and is used to help investors understand the return of an investment compared to its risk.
6 Source: FactSet. Data as of 9/30/2021. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. Index performance is not illustrative of fund performance. A significant rise in interest rates is defined as a 100 basis point increase in the 5-year Treasury yield or an increase in the Federal Funds target interest rate in a given calendar year. Fund performance current to the most recent month end is available by visiting vaneck.com. Historical information is not indicative of future results. Current data may differ from data quoted. Past performance is no guarantee of future results; VanEck Fallen Angel High Yield Bond ETF commenced on 4/10/2012. An investor cannot invest directly in an index.
7 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
8 Source: FactSet as of 9/30/2021.
9 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
10 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
11 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
12 Source: ICE Data Indices.
13 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021. Investment grade is represented by the ICE BofA US Corporate Index.
14 Source: J.P. Morgan as of 12/31/2020.
15 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021, as represented by the ICE BofA 1-5 Year US Cash Pay High Yield Index.
16 Source: Morningstar. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. Index performance is not illustrative of fund performance. A significant rise in interest rates is defined as a 100 basis point increase in the 5-year Treasury yield or an increase in the Federal Funds target interest rate in a given calendar year.
17 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
18 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
19 Source: ICE Data Indices as of 9/30/2021.
A fallen angel bond is a bond that was initially given an investment-grade rating but has since been reduced to junk bond status.
High yield bonds may be subject to greater risk of loss of income and principal and are likely to be more sensitive to adverse economic changes than higher rated securities.
A rising star is a high yield bond that is upgraded to investment grade.
The information herein represents the opinion of the author(s), but not necessarily those of VanEck, and these opinions may change at any time and from time to time. Certain statements contained herein may constitute projections, forecasts and other forward looking statements, which do not reflect actual results, are valid as of the date of this communication and subject to change without notice. Information provided by third party sources are believed to be reliable and have not been independently verified for accuracy or completeness and cannot be guaranteed. Any discussion of specific securities/financial instruments mentioned in the commentary is neither an offer to sell nor a recommendation to buy these securities. Historical performance is not indicative of future results. Current data may differ from data quoted. Any graphs shown herein are for illustrative purposes only.
Index returns are not Fund returns and do not reflect any management fees or brokerage expenses. Certain indices may take into account withholding taxes. Investors can not invest directly in the Index. Returns for actual Fund investors may differ from what is shown because of differences in timing, the amount invested and fees and expenses. Index returns assume that dividends have been reinvested.
ICE BofAML US High Yield Index (H0A0, “Broad HY Index”), formerly known as BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Index prior to 10/23/2017, is comprised of below-investment grade corporate bonds (based on an average of various rating agencies) denominated in U.S. dollars.
ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index (H0CF, Index) is a subset of the ICE BofA US High Yield Index and includes securities that were rated investment grade at time of issuance.
ICE BofA CCC & Lower US High Yield Index tracks the performance of U.S. dollar denominated corporate debt publicly issued in the U.S. domestic market with a given investment grade rating CCC or below.
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