General Electric Co bonds rallied broadly on Monday after the company struck a deal to sell its biopharma business to Danaher Corp for $21.4 billion and said it would use cash from the deal to ease its massive debt burden.
Yields on GE bonds, which move in the opposite direction of their price, fell to the lowest in about four months across dozens of debt securities and the risk premium demanded by investors in exchange for holding GE paper declined. The price to insure its bonds against default also sank, registering their largest one-day drop in at least three years, according to data from IHS Markit.
The price increase on GE’s roughly $120 billion of bonds was the latest leg in a recovery so far this year after they took a pounding in late 2018 when its new chief executive, Larry Culp, said earlier restructuring efforts were falling short and that the company would need to take more-aggressive action to address its debt load in particular.
Culp slashed GE’s quarterly dividend to just a penny a share and has since struck a raft of deals to sell assets. The bulk of proceeds have been pledged toward working down its debt, which at one point in late 2018 was roughly twice GE’s market capitalization as its stock price plunged to a low of $6.66 a share in December.
The three main credit rating agencies - Moody’s Investors Service, S&P Global Markets and Fitch Ratings - peg GE debt at just three notches above junk bond levels. For much of the fourth quarter of 2018, its bonds were trading as though they were no longer investment-grade securities.
GE bonds’ broad underperformance last year, when they skidded by around 14 percent, weighed heavily on the U.S. corporate bond market overall. Bonds rated on a par with GE’s in the so-called triple-B range now account for roughly half of the $6 trillion investment-grade sector, and GE alone would account for 10 percent of the junk bond market should it ever lose its investment-grade rating.
One of GE’s most active bonds on Monday, its $11.5 billion of 4.418 percent notes due in November 2035, jumped 2.6 points in price to regain the 90 cents on the dollar level for the first time since late October. In mid-November they had dropped to as low as 77 cents on the dollar.
The spread of their yield over Treasuries, a measure of the additional compensation demanded by investors for holding riskier securities, narrowed to a four-month low of 222 basis points, having tightened by about 200 basis points since November.
The announcement also further eased concerns about GE’s solvency that had grown markedly last year, reflected in a surge in the price for GE credit default swaps, a form of insurance against default, during the fourth quarter. On Monday, however, GE’s CDS prices sank to their lowest since mid-October.