Reaching for Yield in the Bond Market

56 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2013 Last revised: 8 Apr 2013

See all articles by Bo Becker

Bo Becker

Stockholm School of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); ECGI

Victoria Ivashina

Harvard University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2013

Abstract

Reaching-for-yield--investors' propensity to buy riskier assets in order to achieve higher yields--is believed to be an important factor contributing to the credit cycle. This paper presents a detailed study of this phenomenon in the corporate bond market. We show that insurance companies, the largest institutional holders of corporate bonds, reach for yield in choosing their investments. Consistent with lower rated bonds bearing higher capital requirement, insurance firms' prefer to hold higher rated bonds. However, conditional on credit ratings, insurance portfolios are systematically biased toward higher yield, higher CDS bonds. Reaching-for-yield exists both in the primary and the secondary market, and is robust to a series of bond and issuer controls, including bond liquidity and duration, and issuer fixed effects. This behavior is related to the business cycle, being most pronounced during economic expansions. It is also more pronounced for firms with poor corporate governance and for which regulatory capital requirement is more binding. A comparison of the ex-post performance of bonds acquired by insurance companies shows no outperformance, but higher systematic risk and volatility.

Suggested Citation

Becker, Bo and Ivashina, Victoria, Reaching for Yield in the Bond Market (March 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w18909. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2237822

Bo Becker (Contact Author)

Stockholm School of Economics ( email )

Drottninggatan 98
Dept. of Finance
111 60 Stockholm, 11160
Sweden

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

ECGI ( email )

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

Victoria Ivashina

Harvard University ( email )

Harvard Business School
Baker Library 233
Boston, MA 02163
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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