US high-grade corporate bond spreads to tighten in 2024 :JPM

By Matt Tracy

(Reuters) – Spreads on U.S. corporate high-grade bonds are likely to tighten in 2024, according to JPMorgan.

In a report published on Monday, JPMorgan forecast that returns on high-grade bonds will reach new highs in 2024 that will continue through the end of the year.

The bank anticipates total returns on high-grade bonds climbing to 12.4% by year-end 2024 from 1.8% currently.

“What is not a possibility but rather a certainty, in our view, is that yields at multi-decade highs leads to buying of HG credit day in and day out,” the report’s authors wrote.

These high returns and stable bond yields will push demand not just from institutional investors such as insurers and pension funds, but also from retail investors and foreign buyers, the report added.

Spreads will likely compress modestly as a result, ending 2024 at 125 basis points (bps) from their current 131 bps, according to the report.

JPMorgan’s rosy view for high-grade credit next year depends on several factors, including interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve beginning in July, GDP growth of 0.7%, and a decline in the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield to 3.75% by the end of 2024.

“Such an environment of slow but positive growth, declining rates such that total returns for HG bond holders will be strong, and lower policy rates which makes cash less attractive are all quite supportive for HG credit markets,” the report’s authors wrote.

Lower new bond supply next year will contribute to high-grade spreads’ tightening, according to the report. It forecast gross supply will remain flat year to year at $1.2 trillion, while net supply will decline nearly a quarter to $404 billion.

Strong credit metrics due in part to prudent balance sheet management also support the picture for high-grade bonds next year, according to JPMorgan, which sees only a small proportion of high-grade issuers being downgraded to junk status.

At the same time as it expects high-grade spreads to tighten next year, JPMorgan forecast that high-yield bond spreads will widen. Such opposite moves between the two markets rarely occurs, the last time being in 1997, according to the report.

“In HY the widening forecast is based on the expectation of lower UST yields which tends to be more negative for HY spreads than for HG.”

(Reporting by Matt Tracy; Editing by Marguerita Choy)