1 Big Risk Investors Are Missing in This High-Yield Industry

The best financiers and bankers aren't worried about what they'll make. They're worried about what they can lose.

When capital is cheap like it is today, greed can get the best of anyone. For investors who own high-yield business development companies like Apollo Investment (NASDAQ: AINV  ) and Triangle Capital (NYSE: TCAP  ) , this risk is especially large.

But everything is rosy!
It is. Right now.

When we think of companies that make money by lending money, it's important to remember that the losses tend to come in pairs, triples, and quintuples. If one loan is written off, you can expect several others to follow. Finance is as cyclical as any business. Find a grey-haired banker and ask him about how many times he or she has seen a layoff.

When I think about private equity and business development companies, I spend a lot of time thinking about credit quality and availability. Two things grab most of my attention.

1. Can these loans pay off without refinancing?
Warren Buffett famously said that "only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." Awash in liquidity, some high-yield BDCs are probably swimming naked, but there's little evidence that we can see now.

The important thing in lending is getting your money back. With rates dropping for much of the last five years, private equity investors have raised piles of money. And their customers -- borrowers -- have been tapping them for cash frequently.

Here's the rub: Even a terrible business can repay a loan as long as someone else is willing to float them money. You can run a great loan book even if your borrowers are losing money and can merely afford interest payments. All you need is someone else to take up the loan when it comes time to refinance. Most people don't think like that, but it's true -- it's why lending can become a true house of cards when the seas of cash retreat.

2. Hopping off at floor 13
Keeping in mind point No. 1, that a business can repay loans just by refinancing and by virtue of the Greater fool (hopefully not us Fools), I begin to think about the next credit crunch. In leveraged lending and middle-market private equity, that big risk is, in my mind, what happens when the Fed tapers its asset purchases.

The Fed's buying sprees don't just magically drive down interest rates. It increases the supply of liquidity -- the money available for lending.

When credit gets tight, it's not going to be the S&P 500 companies of the world that feel the pinch. It's going to be the borrowers at the margin -- the higher-risk, smaller companies that Apollo Investment and Triangle Capital fund.

Can you pick the top? It's unlikely. Right now, deals are getting done with worsening protections for the lender. Financial Times reports that covenant-lite deals have surpassed their financial crisis peak.

Admittedly, leveraged loans are for larger businesses than BDCs invest in, so it's not a perfect proxy of risk. But it's obviously not a good sign, either.

I'm not telling you to run for the hills now. I don't think anyone can truly predict a top in private equity. But if history is indication, it tends to happen in times like right now -- when private companies are going public, covenant-lite loans are expanding, and managers are loaded with cash.

I just want to deliver a reminder that not every year will be a year of luscious dividend yields. Credit losses happen, and it's important to remember that money can be lost as quickly as you can make it. For businesses like BDCs, it's all about the long haul. If you can ride the waves, you'll likely do fine. Panicking, like many did in 2009, only served to reduce returns.

Now is a great time to ask yourself if the dividend stocks you love now are stocks you'd feel comfortable holding in a credit crunch. If not, it may be smart to rethink your portfolio. 

Rock-solid dividends built to last
Dividend stocks can make you rich. It's as simple as that. While they don't garner the notoriety of high-flying growth stocks, they're also less likely to crash and burn. And over the long term, the compounding effect of the quarterly payouts, as well as their growth, adds up faster than most investors imagine. With this in mind, our analysts sat down to identify the absolute best of the best when it comes to rock-solid dividend stocks, drawing up a list in this free report of nine that fit the bill. To discover the identities of these companies before the rest of the market catches on, you can download this valuable free report by simply clicking here now.


Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 19, 2013, at 8:44 PM, awallejr wrote:

    So basically you arbitrarily knocked two companies with non-specific strawman arguments. Are you even knowledgeable about AINV's portfolio? I suspect you are completely clueless as to what loans they have made.

    You absolutely ignore Dodd-Frank for example. BDCs are now filling the role banks used to fill. Are you even listening to Bernanke or Yellin? Taper is not the concern, raising the Fed funds rate is and they told you that is not happening for YEARS. And when Aunt Janet does taper it will be because of a strong sustainable economy hence sound companies able to meet their costs.

    Sorry Jordan but this is just a puff scare piece with no substance. It should not have been published.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2732140, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 11/23/2014 3:10:06 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement