The Next Hurdle for High Yield? Tighter Lending Standards

Posted by Lawrence Gillum, CFA, Chief Fixed Income Strategist

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Federal Reserve (Fed) released its quarterly Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices yesterday and it continues to show banks are tightening lending standards on commercial and industrial (C&I) loans. C&I loans are an important funding source for companies that can’t (or don’t want to) access capital markets to fund growth initiatives or to just help pay the bills. Moreover, C&I loans are an especially important funding source for lower-rated companies because borrowing (or issuing additional equity shares) can be too restrictive and costs prohibitive at times, whereas C&I loans are short-term loans with variable interest rates that are generally secured by company collateral.

However, with the recent Fed report showing banks are making it harder for some companies to access C&I loans and/or only access them at higher rates, it could mean higher yields and spreads for the high-yield index broadly (Bloomberg U.S. Corporate High Yield Index). Shown below, tighter lending standards (orange line) have historically correlated with higher bond yields and spreads (blue line) for non-investment grade rated companies. This relationship makes sense as C&I loans can provide emergency financing for companies if needed and without that potential lifeline, it could make it harder for some companies to service existing debt.

View enlarged chart

According to the report, the percentage of respondents that reported tightening standards for C&I loans to large and medium firms increased marginally in the past three months, to 46% from 44.8% in the prior survey. However, this report only covers the first quarter, when only SVB (March 10) and Signature Bank (March 12) were thought to be at risk. As the regional banking stresses have continued into the second quarter, it’s likely next quarter’s report will continue to show additional tightening. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, this indicator leads actual lending activity by about 12 months, and has produced an accurate leading signal of recessions in the past. The current value is consistent with a sharper pullback in C&I loans in the second half of the year. C&I lending accounts for 10% of GDP.

And while high-yield companies, in general, did a good job of fortifying balance sheets and terming out debt (i.e., issuing a lot of debt at longer maturities at low interest rates) there will most certainly be companies that will need emergency financing and won’t be able to access it. This in turn will likely lead to defaults, especially if the economy contracts at some point this year. The asset class has been resilient so far though given the ongoing regional banking stresses, debt ceiling debate, and over 5% of Fed rate hikes. But high yield spreads are currently trading around historical averages in a year that feels anything like average. So, while we like high yield from a strategic perspective (for investors with a longer-term time horizon), we remain on the sidelines in tactical portfolios awaiting a better entry point.


This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. There is no assurance that the views or strategies discussed are suitable for all investors. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, please consult your financial professional prior to investing.

Investing involves risks including possible loss of principal. No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee return or eliminate risk in all market environments. For more information on the risks associated with the strategies and product types discussed please visit  

References to markets, asset classes, and sectors are generally regarding the corresponding market index. Indexes are unmanaged statistical composites and cannot be invested into directly. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment and do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

Unless otherwise stated LPL Financial and the third party persons and firms mentioned are not affiliates of each other and make no representation with respect to each other. Any company names noted herein are for educational purposes only and not an indication of trading intent or a solicitation of their products or services.

All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, LPL Financial makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy.

Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a registered investment advisor and broker-dealer. Member FINRA/SIPC.

View All Posts