Fallen Angel

Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What are Fallen Angels?

Fallen angels are a type of bond that is vested with an investment-grade rating and the same has been impacted as a result of the issuer’s financial condition and ultimately reduced to junk bond status and it can be municipal, corporate, or even sovereign debt. Fallen angel bonds give better returns but are also significantly riskier.

The major reason for the decline is due to the sharp decrease in the revenue of the issuer. Therefore, they do not have the resources to pay their investors. Often issuers, take up more debt to settle their existing debt which leads to debt piling up and this causes the downgrade to accelerate.

Fallen Angels Explained

Fallen Angels are investment-grade bonds that have experienced a sharp decline in their value due to the downgrade in the issuer’s financial condition. An investor with a high-risk appetite looks at the fallen angels list to find bonds with high-yield and significantly high risk.

A bond that is now a Fallen Angels will often experience further declines as investors may pull out in anticipation of further downgrades. The compounded fall in the value can have grave repercussions, eventually leading to possible rate cuts and a further level of declines. Additionally, it can have a downward spiralA Downward SpiralThe death spiral or the downward demand spiral occurs when an entity finds itself in a series of troubles and chooses to eliminate the entire range of products or services instead of identifying and battling the root causes. It is a phenomenon of cost accounting.read more on the industry and cascading effects on the overall economy as well.

For instance, Moody’s assigned Company ‘Y’ an investment gradeInvestment GradeInvestment grade is the credit rating of fixed-income bonds, bills, and notes as assigned by the credit rating agencies like Standard and Poor’s (S&P), Fitch, and Moody’s to express the creditworthiness of and risk associated with these investments.read more rating of ‘A’ indicating the firm is a high-quality firm with very low counterparty/default risk. Due to a major shift in the economic situation and mounting debt responsibilities, Company ‘Y’ experienced a massive decrease in their sales numbers for 3 consecutive quarters. This resulted in Moody’s downgrading Company Y’s credit rating to CCC, i.e., junk bond status for speculative firms that could fail in its debt commitments. Thus, the bond of Company ‘Y’ will be considered as a ‘Fallen Angel.’

While fallen angels have historically outperformed, the same should not be assumed. In 2010-11, they had underperformed due to subordinated bank debt and peripheral Eurozone bonds. While an influx of fallen-angel supply has the potential to boost long-term returns, fundamental research, including deep sector expertise, will always be critical in identifying the best of these firms to avoid unnecessary risk and make the most of the opportunity.

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Characteristics of Fallen Angel

Very often, these fallen angel bonds have outperformed the original high-yield issues. For instance, in 2015, in the European region, these bonds exceeded the high yield issue by around 3%. The returns from Fallen Angels were around 6%, whereas the regular high-yield bonds offered around 3%.

Like most investment instruments or asset classes, there are a few distinctive features or characteristics of fallen angel bonds. Let us understand them through the explanation below.

  • Susceptible to higher price volatility since there is a major shift in the status of the firm.
  • Prior to an anticipated downgrade and index infusion, such bonds are sold off by the market in bulk quantities.
  • Generally, post the downgrades, it is possible that investors will rush to buy such bonds for speculative purposes. If the fundamentals are strong, there will be hopes of the firm recovering and earning high price returns.

In terms of statisticsIn Terms Of StatisticsStatistics is the science behind identifying, collecting, organizing and summarizing, analyzing, interpreting, and finally, presenting such data, either qualitative or quantitative, which helps make better and effective decisions with relevance.read more, Fallen angels compose around 4% of the market. As of 2016, some companies like Fossil Group and Symantec were on the brink of Junk Bond status.

Strategies Applicable for Recovery

Although difficult, it is possible to get a few bonds from the fallen angels list to be set on the road to recovery. Let us discuss some strategies that can help issuers embark on their journeys of recovery through the discussion below.

Fallen Angel

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#1 – Change in Business Segments

A firm/entity may face a downgrade in the credit rating due to the below performance of specific segments of a business. A classic example is that of Nokia, whereby the telecom equipment business generated higher revenues than the handheld devices segment. This was due to the shift in consumer preferences and technological advancements. Nokia was unable to generate adequate revenues from the business of handheld devices due to sophisticated competitors such as Apple and Microsoft entering the market.

The shares of Nokia turned out to be a Fallen Angels, and they found it relatively hard to get back on track. The ideal option for such an entity is to sell or close the struggling division and divert the resources towards high-profit potential. A similar situation was applicable to Nokia, whereby they had the opportunity to focus on improving the telecom equipment segment.

#2 – Expenditure Reduction

This is one of the less popular manners to get back on track but is a tactic adopted across the globe which includes:

  • Limiting resources or terminating the services of employees whose services are less critical in the overall process.
  • The firm may limit the resources by using superior or similar quality materials that cost lower than what the firm uses.
  • Automating some of the processes can guide in reducing the number of resources attached to the support process/departments.
  • Reducing/slashing benefits such as Healthcare or Pension until the business reaches a stage of recovery.
  • Other strategies like Retrenchment or employing contractors can also be adopted.

#3- Changes in Capital Deployment

A firm/unit struggling with a situation of Fallen Angels can make changes to the process of Capital deployment by reducing the amount of capital allocated to underperforming segments and subsequently enhancing the allocations to the well-performing segments.

For e.g., AIG (American International Group) implemented such a strategy to remain stagnant post the financial crisis of 2008. This involved:

Risks and Opportunities

If a core-level analysis is conducted, fallen angels do offer its share of pros and cons. However, deciding to invest or not invest in fallen angel bonds is completely dependent on the investor’s understanding of the market and their risk appetite.

Despite various fallen angel risks, some of the opportunities offered are:

  • If the downgrade is expected to be temporary in nature, investors can enter at purchasing them at a lower price.
  • If the fundamentals of the firm are strong, they can offer the potential for much higher returns if held for some time.

This has been a guide to what are Fallen Angels. Here we explain its characteristics, strategies, and the Risk and Opportunities in detail. You may also have a look at these articles to learn more about Fixed Income.

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