Unlisted corporate bonds often overlooked

Unlisted corporate bonds are often overlooked, but offer attractive yields, Tony Featherstone writes.

There is no shortage of market commentators telling investors to focus on dividend yield.

Their logic is sound: choose quality companies that pay reliable, higher fully-franked dividends to ride out the share market storm.

Of course, the risk is the sustainability of earnings, potential dividend cuts and further share price falls if the economy slows and the bear market finds new lows.

What good is a 7 per cent yield if a stock has double-digit capital losses and one has to sell?

Another yield source that gets far less coverage is unlisted corporate bonds.

Partly this is because such bonds often have a face value of $500,000 and are beyond many retail investors.

Fixed-income specialist FIIG Securities favours unlisted tier-one corporate bonds from issuers such as Axa and Swiss Re, and has a useful service that provides access to wholesale bonds in $50,000 and $100,000 parcels.

The Axa SA floating-rate bond has a current running yield of 11.43 per cent, pays interest quarterly and has an October 2016 call date.

A Swiss Re floating-rate bond has an 11.71 per cent running yield, pays interest semi-annually and has a May 2017 call date.

FIIG believes such yields are attractive for income-seeking investors or self-managed superannuation funds seeking lower-risk yield.

"Our favourite call is high-yielding investment-grade bonds that provide equity-like returns, with bond-like risk," FIIG director of interest rate securities and fixed-income research Brad Newcombe says.

"And we favour wholesale products in unlisted markets that provide higher returns. A double-digit yield for the next four or five years, depending on the bond's maturity, is attractive."

Investors might also consider yield on bank bonds. The indicative running yield on the Bank of Queensland's floating-rate callable offer is 8.3 per cent, FIIG research shows.

The indicative running yield on Suncorp Metway Insurance's floating-rate callable offer is 6.39 per cent.

Other investors might consider bonds issued by industrial companies.

Wesfarmers' fixed-rate senior offer has an indicative running yield of 7.6 per cent. Leighton Finance bonds have an indicative running yield of 8.91 per cent.

Australian Pacific Airports (Melbourne) fixed-rate bonds are yielding 6 per cent and Royal Bank of Scotland bonds have an indicative running yield near 7 per cent.

Although attractive, these yields are still below Telstra Corporation's expected 9 per cent dividend yield in 2011/12, based on consensus analysts' forecasts.

And after such steep falls, investors who expect a fourth-quarter share market rally could pick up high yield and potential capital growth from current markets levels.

But it is all about risk and return preference. Investors who want attractive yield with less risk of capital loss might need to look beyond equities to listed and unlisted interest rate securities.

Higher-quality bonds from higher-quality companies could be a place to start for those seeking more fixed-income exposure in portfolios and a more balanced asset allocation.


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