making sense of stresses in AT1 bonds market – Financial institution Underground


Mahmoud Fatouh and Ioana Neamțu

Just like the Deutsche Financial institution’s episode in 2016 and the Covid stress in 2020, AT1 spreads over subordinated debt rose quickly and sharply following the Credit score Swiss rescue deal. Past these three circumstances, AT1 spreads have been secure. On this publish, we concentrate on conversion threat of AT1 bonds (also referred to as contingent convertible, CoCo, bonds) to clarify the sharp rise in AT1 spreads in these three circumstances. Conversion threat is the principle extra threat of AT1 bonds, in comparison with subordinated debt. It arises from the potential wealth switch from AT1 bondholders to present shareholders when AT1 conversion is triggered, conditional on the solvency of the issuer. We present that, in regular instances, traders imagine conversion threat could be very low, however main occasions can change this considerably, largely on account of larger uncertainty.

Understanding AT1 costs and yield actions

The current rescue of Credit score Suisse included a write-off of its whole US$17 billion AT1 capital (CoCo bonds). This led to fast and sharp drops in costs (and will increase in yields) of different issuers’ AT1, to ranges not seen for the reason that Covid stress in March 2020, as Chart 1 reveals. They recovered shortly afterwards following the immediate statements from the EU’s monetary authorities and the Financial institution of England. Comparable scenes occurred in early 2016, when traders thought Deutsche Financial institution was about to cancel its AT1 coupons, after being hit by a US$15 billion advantageous by authorities within the US.

Chart 1: AT1 value motion, January 2015–March 2023

Supply: Refinitiv Eikon.

The value actions mirror yields actions, that are often assessed relative to yields of financial institution’s subordinated bonds of comparable period. As Chart 2 demonstrates, spreads of AT1 bonds over subordinated bonds of comparable period (measured by variations in yield to worst) have been typically secure, besides throughout and round these three episodes in 2016, 2020 and 2023.

Chart 2: Yield to worst of AT1 versus subordinated bonds

Supply: Refinitiv Eikon.

To clarify these patterns, we must always take a look at the distinctive traits of AT1 bonds, in comparison with subordinated debt. AT1 bonds have a decrease degree of seniority, and therefore rank under subordinated debt when it comes to pay-out rating, if the issuer was liquidated. Past seniority, holding AT1 bonds includes three extra dangers. First, to rely as AT1 capital, AT1 bonds have to be perpetual, in contrast to subordinated debt, which might have fastened maturity of 5 years or extra. Nevertheless, all AT1 bonds are issued with recall covenants, permitting issuers to recall them 5 years after their issuance. Issuers are typically anticipated to train the decision choices, when they’re activated, however could select to not if rates of interest are comparatively excessive, inflicting a lack of potential larger return to AT1 bondholders. That is known as extension threat. Extension threat shouldn’t have any results on AT1 spreads over subordinated debt (Chart 2). It’s because yields to worst for AT1 bonds are at all times equal to yields to name, whose calculation assumes bonds are referred to as on the first name alternative.

The second threat – coupon cancelability threat – arises from the attainable (partial/full) cancellation of coupon funds. The cancellation can occur routinely, when the issuer doesn’t totally meet its capital buffer necessities.

The third threat displays the attainable wealth switch from AT1 bondholders to present shareholders when the loss-absorbing mechanism (LAM) of AT1 bonds is triggered, which we discuss with as conversion threat. LAM is triggered at a sure capitalisation degree (7% CET1 ratio within the UK). The results on AT1 bondholders and present shareholders depend upon the kind of LAM the bonds contain. LAM will be both conversion to fairness (CE), the place AT1 bondholders get fairness shares in change of their bonds (at a pre-specified conversion price), or principal write-down (PWD), the place the principal of the bonds is written down. The triggering of LAM can switch wealth between AT1 bondholders and present shareholders. PWD bonds (like Credit score Swiss AT1) at all times switch wealth to shareholders. CE bonds could also be dilutive to present shareholders, if the worth at which the bonds convert to fairness was decrease than the market value of shares. Nevertheless, provided that fairness costs are prone to be considerably low throughout instances of stress, we posit that CE bonds are non-dilutive. In our workers working paper, which empirically assesses the hyperlink between the AT1 bonds issuance on risk-taking of issuers, we estimate the wealth switch between shareholders and AT1 holders on the level of conversion for AT1 bonds issued by UK banks, predominantly CE. Our estimates present that, on mixture, the conversion of those bonds would indicate that present shareholders would achieve on the expense of AT1 holders at conversion (ie, AT1 bonds are non-dilutive to present shareholders). In different phrases, the central expectation of traders must be that both coupon cancellation or LAM triggering (‘conversion threat’) would generate a loss to AT1 holders, which might be considerably bigger for PWD bonds.

It’s key to notice that the three dangers (extension, coupon cancellation and conversion) would matter provided that they’re anticipated to materialise whereas the financial institution is solvent. In insolvency, the distinction within the losses suffered by subordinated debt and AT1 holders is simply pushed by seniority, and never any of those three dangers. This has two implications. First, modifications within the creditworthiness (chance of default) of the issuer replicate on the yields of subordinated debt in the identical method, and therefore wouldn’t have robust results on the unfold differential between AT1 bonds and subordinated debt. Second, the three extra dangers would have an effect on AT1 yields and (therefore) spreads provided that traders believed they might take losses on account of these dangers, whereas the issuer is solvent. We argue that this explains the patterns AT1 spreads over subordinated debt present. That’s, in regular circumstances in AT1 market, traders imagine the extra AT1 dangers are very low. Market developments, like these seen in 2016, 2020 and 2023, can change traders’ beliefs considerably, resulting in spikes in spreads, largely on account of larger uncertainty.

Whereas the three dangers can have an effect on AT1 spreads, we expect such impact could be primarily decided by conversion threat. This threat is linked to the principal of AT1 bonds, somewhat than their returns, making potential losses on account of this threat a lot bigger than these anticipated from coupon cancellation and extension threat. Furthermore, provided that AT1 unfold over subordinated debt (Chart 2) is measured by distinction in yield to worst, it shouldn’t be affected by extension threat. Therefore, we focus our evaluation on conversion threat.

In the remainder of this publish, we estimate the chance of conversion threat conditional on the issuer being solvent, which we use as a measure of the ‘mechanical degree’ of conversion threat in regular market circumstances.

How can we estimate conversion threat

We use information of eight AT1 issuing UK banks between 2013 H2 and 2021 H1. The info is collected from a number of sources, together with share market information, revealed monetary statements and regulatory returns.

Since our evaluation approaches the difficulty from traders’ perspective, we concentrate on solvency from the market’s perspective and assume {that a} financial institution could be solvent if the market-implied worth of its property is larger or equal to the worth of its debt. Our goal is to estimate the chance of conversion whereas the issuer is solvent. To take action, following the method we utilized in our paper, for every financial institution in every interval, we calculate the chance of its capital (CET1) ratio falling from its concurrent degree to 7% (chance of conversion) and 0% (chance of default).

Each conversion and default chances depend on the worth of a financial institution’s asset falling under sure thresholds. Traders would rely in the marketplace worth somewhat than the guide worth of property when assessing attainable conversion and default sooner or later. Nevertheless, the market worth of many financial institution property is unobservable (eg mortgages). We deal with this by estimating the market worth of property and their implied market volatility utilizing the Merton mannequin. The mannequin states that beneath restricted legal responsibility, fairness will be seen as a European name choice on the agency’s property, with a strike value equal to complete debt of the agency and maturity equal to the common maturity of that debt. For a one-year horizon, the conference is to estimate the debt by half of the long-term liabilities along with the total short-term debt quantity from a financial institution’s stability sheet. Regardless that we will calculate the asset variables every day, the debt data is simply out there quarterly. Therefore, we compute the space to conversion/default at a quarterly frequency; that’s, how far are a financial institution’s property from being under the AT1 conversion threshold, and respectively from insolvency. Lastly, we extract the chance of conversion/default from the respective distance, assuming the values to be usually distributed.

Having estimated each units of chances, we regress the chance of conversion on the chance of solvency. We use the regression coefficients as estimate of the goal chance (chance of conversion conditional on solvency).


Desk A gift the estimation outcomes. Because the desk reveals, the chance of conversion conditional on solvency is extraordinarily low at about 0.22% on common for all bank-time mixtures within the pattern. We kind the banks by their relative CET1 ratio in comparison with their friends. We discover that the conditional chance is larger for banks with a decrease CET1 ratio however stays under 2% for bank-time mixtures with the 25% lowest CET1 ratios within the pattern (column (d) in Desk A).

Desk A: Estimating the chance of conversion whereas the issuer is solvent

Notice: Coefficient estimates of chance of conversion on chance of solvency. Commonplace errors reported between parentheses, * p<0.10 ** p<0.05 *** p<0.01.

With this estimation in thoughts, we argue that the perceived conversion threat stays very near its ‘mechanical degree’ in regular instances. Nevertheless, when main shocks with implication for AT1 conversion hit, such because the conversion/write-down of a significant AT1 issuer, the perceived conversion threat can grow to be considerably larger than its mechanical degree, growing AT1 spreads over subordinated debt. We expect that these sudden modifications within the perceived conversion threat can plausibly clarify the patterns in AT1 spreads in Chart 2.

Summing up

In abstract, main occasions affecting AT1 bonds market can enhance uncertainty or create panic. This may trigger an unfounded rise in traders’ notion of conversion threat (and coupon cancellation threat) relative to its mechanical degree, and drive AT1 spreads over subordinated debt upward sharply.

Mahmoud Fatouh works within the Financial institution’s Prudential Framework Division and Ioana Neamțu works within the Financial institution’s Banking Capital Coverage Division.

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