Structured Credit Bubble 2.0: Asian Investors Binge On “Boom-And-Bust” CLOs; Issuance Up 97% YoY

Back in 2006, some of the wall street banks (ahem, Goldman) managed to layoff quite a bit of their mortgage risk to unwitting European and Asian investors who, in their desperate ‘search for yield’, had no idea they had just been conned into stepping in front of a freight train. Now, it seems that the same thing may be happening yet again with another favorite wall street structured product, Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs).

According to Bloomberg, money managers in Korea, Japan and China are piling into CLOs, and often into the most junior tranches no less, at an alarming rate which has resulted in a staggering 97% increase in YoY new issuance volume.

Faced with near record-low interest rates at home, money managers in Korea, Japan and China have been piling into complex and increasingly risky structured loan products in America. Their investments in collateralized loan obligations — including the high-yield “equity’’ tranches most exposed to defaults — have helped drive a doubling of issuance in 2017.

The bets have performed well so far. But some observers worry that Asian buyers are overlooking risks. Headwinds in the retail and energy sectors have raised the specter of defaults, while Moody’s Investors Service has stopped evaluating one type of CLO product amid concern that buyers will end up holding less creditworthy positions than they anticipated.

“CLOs are a difficult investment universe, and CLO equity is a boom-and-bust product,’’ said Mike Terwilliger, a New York-based portfolio manager at Resource America Inc., which oversees more than $9 billion and invests in CLOs. “Investors need to make sure they’re being adequately compensated.’’

“U.S. CLO equity is starting to look a little less attractive,” Tyler said. “Investors may want to lighten up on this space before there’s a turn in the credit cycle given the illiquid nature of CLO structures.”

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Author: Travis Esquivel

Travis Esquivel is an engineer, passionate soccer player and full-time dad. He enjoys writing about innovation and technology from time to time.

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