Miami, FL - 01/04/2024

Private Credit As A Fixed Income Replacement

Navigating One of the Worst Treasury Bear Markets of All Time

Steven Brod

Steven Brod, CEO and CIO of Crystal Capital Partners, LLC, the portfolio-centric alternative investment platform for financial advisors.

For most risk-averse qualified purchasers, the traditional 60/40 portfolio has stood the test of time. This portfolio, as its name states, is typically comprised of a 60% allocation to equities (for capital appreciation) and a 40% allocation to fixed income (for income and risk management). As we have seen in recent years, in a rising rate environment, this model struggles to meet the needs of its investor base, and the “40%” allocation is currently under question.

To comprehend the basics of fixed-income investing, it is crucial to understand the dynamics that impact the price movement of fixed-income assets. The primary factors influencing pricing are yield and credit quality, often represented by the credit spread, which is the disparity between the yield on a risk-free asset and the security’s yield.

It is important to note that bond prices have an inverse relationship with their yields. Given the current macro environment of high inflation and rates, traditional fixed-income assets have not experienced favorable price action and have thus priced down a significant portion of an investor’s 60/40 portfolio. Bank of America’s Michael Hartnett noted Treasury debt losses over the past three years have amounted to the most severe bear market in US history.

Rebuilding The ‘40%’ Portfolio Allocation In A High Interest Rate Environment

For those looking to expand their fixed-income portfolios beyond traditional lending products, private credit may be an option. With the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and a few other regional banks this past spring, many banks have been de-risking and not offering loans as freely.

Private credit managers have stepped in to fill the void while setting more lender-friendly terms. In this arrangement, lenders interact directly with borrowers to negotiate and initiate privately held loans that are not publicly traded. By bypassing public markets, private credit provides a flexible and tailored solution for borrowers seeking unique funding opportunities.

Private credit refers to a lending practice that operates outside the conventional banking system. Private debt loans are typically issued on a floating-rate basis, linked to benchmarks like Three-month LIBOR or SOFR, with a fixed spread. This structure adjusts the cash flows based on interest rate changes, providing cushioning against rate changes. During periods of increasing interest rates or high inflation, floating-rate bond structures have demonstrated their ability to mitigate the impact on a bond’s price.

Additionally, in a risk-averse market environment where credit spreads are widening, diversification plays a crucial role in minimizing the risk of any individual asset’s credit quality deterioration.

Private credit funds offer several potential advantages, making them a compelling option for investors. These funds are typically invested in a diverse pool of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of private loans and debt securities. This diversification spans various factors such as industry, duration, location and debt structure, which results in a well-balanced portfolio.

Despite being categorized as an illiquid asset class, private credit has shown its ability to deliver higher returns than other fixed-income instruments with lower default and loss rates relative to high yield and leverage loan indices. Another advantage for investors during high periods of market volatility is these credit funds price positions and distribute cash on a quarterly basis, avoiding daily fluctuations experienced in publicly traded bonds.

Enterprise Software, A Natural Fit For Private Credit

Within private credit, enterprise software is one key sector that has remained resilient in this turbulent market. Enterprise software impacts various end markets and is often dubbed a “mission-critical expense.” It has become increasingly popular in the investment community due to its visible and recurring revenue streams, strong free cash flow, high profitability and attractive loan-to-value ratio.

Enterprise software’s customer base is made up of businesses and not individual consumers. Consumer spending trends tend to fluctuate with the economy; however, corporate spending on enterprise software tends to be much more stable and less susceptible to potential budget cuts.

Private capital, both private equity and credit, have recognized the benefits of software lending as a business model, with enterprise software spending being more predictable and durable than it was in previous economic cycles. As business models have evolved to software-as-a-service and subscription models, which require much smaller variable expenses, the result has been more predictable revenue streams with a product that is easier to adopt. As forecast by Gartner, enterprise software spending is set to top $922 billion this year, growing almost 14% since 2022.

Risks

Investing in private credit carries certain risks that should be considered. Illiquidity is a significant concern for many investors, as private credit investments typically have lock-up periods, which limit quick access to the invested principal. While publicly traded bonds can be liquidated relatively quickly, private credit, like private equity, requires patience and a longer time horizon.

Additionally, it’s important to understand the underlying companies to which these loans are being issued. In some instances, loans in this sector are extended to stressed and/or distressed companies. While diversification helps mitigate risk, the refinancing of underlying obligors’ debt may prove more challenging compared to traditional capital market borrowers.

Despite these considerations, investing in private credit can potentially lead to attractive yields, although investors should carefully evaluate their risk tolerance and overall investment strategy.

Conclusion

Private credit assets have experienced significant growth in recent years. Since the global financial crisis, private credit assets under management have grown sevenfold and currently total $1.9 trillion. Not all private credit offerings are equal in terms of quality, though.

Building upon the concept of resilience, I firmly believe that manager selection is a critical component. It’s important to distinguish between managers who have successfully navigated various market cycles and emerged stronger and those who are nascent. Managers who lack exposure to multiple industry cycles might struggle to grasp the significance of resiliency and the importance of comprehending the underlying nuances at play.

Steven Brod

Steven Brod, CEO and CIO of Crystal Capital Partners, LLC, the portfolio-centric alternative investment platform for financial advisors.

The information provided here is not investment, tax, or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.

About Crystal Capital Partners

Crystal Capital Partners is a turn-key alternative investment platform, providing financial advisors exposure to third-party institutional private market and hedge funds for their clients' portfolios. Crystal's clients include independent advisors, regional banks, IBDs, and multi-family offices. Crystal is a Registered Investment Advisor headquartered in Miami, Florida.

Important Disclosures