Give Credit Where Credit is Due: What Explains Corporate Bond Returns?

54 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2019 Last revised: 10 Jun 2019

Date Written: April 10, 2019


This paper explains the risk and returns of US corporate bond indices using a set of economically-motivated factors. In particular, I find that options markets explain a great deal of credit returns. Two particular features of corporate bonds generate option exposure. The first is that, in accordance with the Merton model, a corporate bond is economically equivalent to a short put option on a firm’s assets bundled with a risk-free bond. The second is that many corporate bonds include call provisions, which are basically options granted to the bond issuer. Thus, callable corporate bonds are positively exposed to firm asset values and negatively exposed to interest rates, firm volatility, and bond volatility. Using data spanning 21 years, I find that these identified risk factors explain between 60% and 76% of the return variability of the aggregate US investment grade corporate index, its sub-indices by maturity, and the aggregate US high yield index.

I further decompose performance to identify systematic and idiosyncratic exposures. Systematic exposures compensate bond investors via the bond, equity, equity volatility, and bond volatility risk premia. Idiosyncratic exposures, on the other hand, provide risk without reward on average. Finally, I propose a Risk-Efficient Credit strategy that isolates the compensated risk premia by buying bonds and equities and by selling delta-neutralized equity index options and bond options. Risk-Efficient Credit strategies had similar or higher average returns than their corporate bond index counterparts, despite realizing between 15% and 48% lower volatility as well as attenuated drawdowns.

Keywords: Corporate Bonds, Credit, Credit Spreads, Credit Risk, Options, Investment Grade, High Yield, Credit Puzzle, Volatility Risk Premium, Variance Risk Premium, PutWrite, Put-Write, Covered Calls, Covered Call, BuyWrite, Buy-Write, CDS, Implied Volatility, VIX

JEL Classification: G00, G10, G11, G12, G13, G14

Suggested Citation

Israelov, Roni, Give Credit Where Credit is Due: What Explains Corporate Bond Returns? (April 10, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Roni Israelov (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

United States

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