In an earlier post, we highlighted the likely impact tax reform could have on investment-grade (IG) corporate debt. In part two, we turn our attention to the high-yield (HY) market.1 While a reduction in taxes should benefit all profitable companies, other provisions could lead to tough choices for some less-credit-worthy borrowers. As we’ve seen during the most recent earnings season, HY still presents a mix of opportunity and risk. Below, we highlight the contrasting impact of lower tax rates and potential changes in the deductibility of interest expenses.
Big Picture: lower taxes, higher free cash flow and earnings
On net, the proposed tax plan is a positive for high yield. Lower statutory tax rates should result in higher profitability metrics, greater free cash flow and a boost to economic momentum/growth, while extending the credit cycle. While all businesses won’t be impacted the same way, we feel comfortable concluding that tax cuts should bias credit spreads tighter for riskier borrowers, on average. Similarly, an increase in economic growth could also push nominal interest rates higher.
What about Revenue Offsets?
While the top-line impacts we highlighted above should be broadly positive, we believe other elements of tax reform warrant closer attention: most notably, the so-called interest deductibility provision.
In the current environment, companies choosing to finance themselves with debt are permitted to fully deduct interest payments. As a result, companies have an incentive to finance themselves with debt as opposed to equity. In order to help dampen the fiscal impact of tax cuts on the federal budget, the current proposal would limit the deductible amount of interest expenses to 30% of EBITDA.
Fundamentally, this provision should have a much greater impact on the HY market. Given that risky borrowers tend to pay higher interest rates and (all else being equal) tend to deploy more leverage, the 30% cap on deductions should impact a larger percentage of the market. As we show in the chart below, HY companies with leverage of approximately 5.5x would likely be unable to fully deduct their interest expenses. In the second chart, we show that this makes up approximately 40% of the total market.2
While attempting to draw broad-based conclusions about individual companies can be tricky, a few key points stand out. In our analysis of firms with public financials, we estimate that 91% of CCCs will be unable to fully deduct their interest expenses. Continue Reading…