Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Michael Milken on the Current Phase of the Business Cycle

Billionaire, and one time junk bond king, Michael Milken has penned an Op-Ed piece for WSJ commenting on the capital structure of various corporations at various stages of the business cycle. Of particular note is Milken's comments about current activities in the capital markets, which if read carefully appear to suggest that Milken sees the economy in an early recovery stage. Writes Milken:

The accessibility of capital markets has grown continuously since 1974. Businesses are not as dependent on banks, which now own less than a third of the loans they originate. In the first quarter of 2009, many corporations took advantage of low absolute levels of interest rates to raise $840 billion in the global bond market. That's 100% more than in the first quarter of 2008, and is a typical increase at this stage of a market cycle. Just as in the 1974 recession, investment-grade companies have started to reliquify. Once that happens, the market begins to open for lower-rated bonds. Thus BB- and B-rated corporations are now raising capital through new issues of equity, debt and convertibles.

This cyclical process today appears to be where it was in early 1975, when balance sheets began to improve and corporations with strong capital structures started acquiring others. In a single recent week, Roche raised more than $40 billion in the public markets to help finance its merger with Genentech. Other companies such as Altria, HCA, Staples and Dole Foods, have used bond proceeds to pay off short-term bank debt, strengthening their balance sheets and helping restore bank liquidity. These new corporate bond issues have provided investors with positive returns this year even as other asset groups declined.
Makes sense to us, Michael.

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