This column was originally published on RealMoney. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.Two changes have taken place in the corporate bond market in recent years. The first change deals with credit default swaps (or CDS), which I discussed in
Because of this, the decline in implied volatility for the indices and individual companies has been a major factor in the spread compression that has happened. I would say that the decline in implied volatility, and deleveraging, has had a larger impact on spreads than improved profitability has.
Finally, the combination of contingent claims theory and the existence of CDS can produce other anomalies. It becomes theoretically possible to hedge CDS against common equity. Some hedge funds do this. They analyze bank debt, corporate bonds, convertible bonds, preferred and common stocks, options, warrants and other financing instruments, to find the cheapest aspect of a company's credit structure and buy it, and find the richest aspect and sell it. The full set of implications for the asset markets from this is unknown, partly because funds that do this are small relative to the markets as a whole. If the hedge funds that did this were too large for the markets, it would create too many feedback loops that have not yet been tested, which would have a tendency to amplify price moves in a crisis. I can't tell where such a crisis might lurk. The markets are relatively optimistic now. But being aware that these feedback loops could exist, can give you an edge in a crisis. The main upshot is this: Having a strong balance sheet is worth more today than it was in the past. It's one of many reasons why I continue to focus on higher-quality companies in my equity investing.