CLOs: Why Now


CLOs: Why Now

Collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) have been gaining wider prominence in markets in recent years, and it’s no surprise why – they have historically offered a combination of above-average yield and potential appreciation that is especially compelling in today’s low-yield environment. Yet while CLOs have historically yielded attractive performance versus other fixed income strategies, some investors may be intimidated by their complexity or shy away from them because of their similarity to other asset classes that performed poorly during the global financial crisis.

That said, US and European regulators have since taken steps to mitigate CLOs’ structural risks. This is one of the reasons why CLOs have historically remained attractive.

CLOs have gotten better with age

CLOs originated in the late 1980s as a way for banks to package leveraged loans together to provide investors with a vehicle with varied degrees of risk and return to best suit their investment objectives. The first vintage of “modern” CLOs – which focused on generating income via cash flows – was issued starting in the mid- to late-1990s. Commonly known as “CLO 1.0,” this vintage included some high yield bonds, as well as loans, and was the standard CLO structure until the financial crisis struck in 2008.

The next vintage, CLO 2.0, began in 2010 and changed in response to the financial crisis by strengthening credit support and shortening the period in which loan interest and proceeds could be reinvested into additional loans.

The current vintage, CLO 3.0, began in 2014 and aimed to further reduce risk by eliminating high yield bonds and adhering to the Volcker Rule and other new regulations. In 2020, the Volcker Rule was further amended, and high yield bonds are now allowed back into CLOs. Currently, few CLOs allow for investments into high yield, and those that do generally limit the exposure to 5%-10%. To compensate for the exposure to high yield, these CLOs have increased levels of subordination aimed to better protect debt tranches.

Vintages 2.0 and 3.0 represent the biggest chunk of the market, with about $800 billion in principal outstanding, while less than 1% of the market is CLO 1.0 vintages.1

CLOs Get Better With Age

US CLO vintages 2.0 and 3.0 represent the biggest share of the market today

US CLOs Outstanding

Source: BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research. As of 30 June 2021.

Choosing the right manager

While CLOs have undergone significant changes aimed to reduce risk for investors, they remain complex instruments that require a high degree of expertise. Because CLOs are issued and managed by asset managers, the most critical decision a CLO investor can make is the selection of a manager. It isn’t easy: There are approximately 175 managers2 with post-crisis CLOs to choose from, and each creates its own portfolios using its own investment style. And while historical performance varies greatly among managers, there are several key traits that successful managers share. Experience is the most important. There’s no substitute for deep CLO management experience, which provides the combination of skills, practice, tactical and strategic savvy, adjustment-making, and chronological perspective needed to generate strong returns in such a complicated asset class. The benefit of having managed portfolios before, during, and after the financial crisis is incalculable.

Managers should excel in the vital competencies that collectively define best-practice portfolio management. These include loan selection, trading prowess, effective management of deteriorating credits, and the reinvestment of principal proceeds in new collateral.

Finally, sound risk management is both a cause and effect of these best practices: It informs everything the manager does and is reflected in the results. In addition to oversight of the portfolio, it includes skillful execution of coverage tests, the ability to understand the nuances of CLO documentation, and a talent for balancing the numerous portfolio metrics.

To learn more about CLOs and their potential benefits in today’s market, read our full CLO primer, “Seeing Beyond the Complexity: An Introduction to Collateralized Loan Obligations.


1 Source: Bank of America Global Research as of 31 July 2021.
2 Source: Intex as of 2 December 2020.


Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal. The information presented herein is for illustrative purposes only and should not be considered reflective of any particular security, strategy, or investment product. It represents a general assessment of the markets at a specific time and is not a guarantee of future performance results or market movement. This material does not constitute investment, financial, legal, tax, or other advice; investment research or a product of any research department; an offer to sell, or the solicitation of an offer to purchase any security or interest in a fund; or a recommendation for any investment product or strategy. PineBridge Investments is not soliciting or recommending any action based on information in this document. Any opinions, projections, or forward-looking statements expressed herein are solely those of the author, may differ from the views or opinions expressed by other areas of PineBridge Investments, and are only for general informational purposes as of the date indicated. Views may be based on third-party data that has not been independently verified. PineBridge Investments does not approve of or endorse any re-publication or sharing of this material. You are solely responsible for deciding whether any investment product or strategy is appropriate for you based upon your investment goals, financial situation and tolerance for risk.

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