Junk Bond/Treasury Convergence Strategy

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Written By
Contributor Image
Written By
Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

The Junk Bond/Treasury Convergence Strategy is a fixed-income trading approach that tries to take advantage of:

  • perceived undervaluation within the high-yield (junk) bond market, relative to safer Treasury bonds
  • hedging interest rate risk and profiting from the extra yield from junk bonds’ credit risk


Key Takeaways – Junk Bond/Treasury Convergence Strategy

  • Higher Yield Potential
    • This strategy leverages the higher yields offered by junk bonds compared to Treasuries, targeting the spread narrowing between the two or simply capturing the spread.
    • Traders should focus on identifying undervalued high-yield bonds with improving credit profiles for optimal gains.
      • For traders looking to capture the spread, executing the strategy with broad exposure could be fine (e.g., ETFs).
  • Risk Reduction
    • By pairing junk bonds with Treasuries, traders can hedge interest rate risk.


Here’s how it works:


Identifying the Spread

Traders begin by focusing on the difference in yields (known as the “spread”) between a specific junk bond and a Treasury bond with a similar maturity.

This spread represents the additional compensation demanded for holding the riskier junk bond.

Hedging Interest Rate Risk

The junk bond/Treasury convergence strategy goes long junk bonds and shorts Treasuries, hedging interest rate risk.

It bets that narrowing spreads will generate profits from the junk bond’s rising price and overall higher yield relative to Treasuries.

To avoid specific bond risk, this can be performed with low-cost ETFs.

Taking Opposite Positions

The trader takes a long position in the junk bond (buying it) and simultaneously establishes a short position in a Treasury (essentially trying to capture the spread).

The idea is that if the junk bond performs as expected (and doesn’t default), it’ll get extra yield and you’ll make a profit off the spread relative to the Treasury while avoiding interest rate risk.


Factors Affecting the Strategy

Several factors can influence the success of a junk bond/Treasury convergence strategy:

Economic Conditions

A healthy economy reduces the default risk of companies issuing junk bonds.

Conversely, during economic/market downturns, traders perceive greater risk in junk bonds, widening spreads.

In such an environment, Treasuries might rally and junk bonds can fall, eliminating the strategy’s spread.

Interest rate risk might be hedged, but credit risk isn’t, and it’s still very much a “risk on” trade.

Interest Rates

Rising interest rates generally hurt bond prices.

The impact should be similar if the bond’s chosen for each leg of the trade have similar durations.

So, if the rise in interest rates is relatively similar across Treasuries and the broader bond market, the spread may remain consistent, potentially benefiting a convergence trade.

Company-Specific Factors

An improvement in an individual company’s financial health (e.g., increased earnings, reduced debt) can positively impact its bond’s value, and vice versa.


Other Factors

Some other tidbits on the Treasury/Junk Bond strategy across various categories:

Quantitative Analysis Methods

Quantitative analysis methods for this convergence strategy:

  • Calculate bond yields using appropriate models (e.g. bootstrapping, Nelson-Siegel)
  • Estimate fair credit spreads based on company financials, industry trends, and credit ratings using quantitative models like Merton or CreditGrades
  • Use statistical techniques like regression analysis to identify mispriced bonds by comparing actual spreads to model-derived fair spreads
  • Set entry/exit spread triggers based on standard deviations from fair value estimates

Portfolio Construction and Risk Management

Portfolio construction and risk management considerations for this strategy:

  • Diversify across different maturities, industries, and credit quality buckets
  • Use risk budgeting to allocate capital based on risk contributions of each position
  • Set exposure limits for individual positions
  • Limit beta exposure to interest rates
  • Hedge interest rate risk by offsetting the duration of junk and Treasury positions
  • Manage overall portfolio Value-at-Risk and expected shortfall metrics

Historical Performance and Backtesting

  • Backtest the strategy across different economic and rate cycles going back decades in as many environments as you can find
  • Calculate risk-adjusted metrics like Sharpe, Sortino, maximum drawdowns
  • Analyze performance attribution – how much of the returns are from credit vs. interest rates
  • Test performance sensitivity
    • E.g., to factors like average credit quality, portfolio turnover

Execution Considerations

  • Focus on most liquid junk bond issues for tight bid/ask spreads
  • Use centralized bond trading platforms and large dealers for best pricing
  • Carefully evaluate transaction costs – both explicit (spread, commissions, interest, borrowing fees) and implicit (opportunity cost)
  • For short Treasuries, use most liquid cheap-to-borrow issues and futures; consider ETFs as well (e.g., TLT)
  • Have rigorous cash/liquidity management process for margin requirements

Regulatory and Tax

Generally overlooked, but important:

  • Short equity positions may have different margin, lending requirements
  • Some jurisdictions prohibit retail traders from shorting government bonds, but alternatives like ETFs or futures could be a possibility
  • Tax treatment of bond interest vs. capital gains can impact after-tax returns
  • Potential tax inefficiencies from elevated turnover in the strategy

Alternative Strategies

Some alternative strategies, though they require a level of sophistication:

Credit long/short

Go long cash bonds, short CDX indices or bond futures.

Basis trades

Arbitrage CUSIP vs. TBA/CDX basis by going long/short.

This means simultaneously taking long and short positions in different fixed-income instruments relating to the same underlying bond or loan in order to profit from pricing discrepancies between them.

Related: Basis Trade

Volatility trades

Trade options on bonds/bond futures to isolate volatility risk premium.

Capital structure arbitrage

Exploit mispricing between bonds, loans, and/or CDS of same issuer.

Related: Capital Structure Arbitrage Trading Strategy



Assume a hypothetical Company X has issued a junk bond with a yield of 8% and a 5-year maturity.

Suppose 5-year Treasury bond yields 3%. The spread between the two is 5 percentage points (8% – 3%).

A trader believes this spread is too wide or just wants to capture the spread and take on pure credit risk.

  • They buy Company X’s bond and short a 5-year Treasury.
    • If their thesis is correct, and Company X’s bond doesn’t default, its yield might decrease to, say, 7% over time.
  • The Treasury’s yield might also increase (common during rising rate environments), and this would benefit the trader because the Treasury bond’s price would fall (price and yield have an inverse relationship).
  • The spread has now narrowed to 3.5 percentage points.

OR, if they hold to maturity and there’s no default, they capture the 5% spread.

This narrowing benefits the trader’s long position in the junk bond and short position in the Treasuries.


Key Risks

Default Risk

The most significant risk in junk bonds is default.

If the issuing company fails to pay its obligations, the bond trader can suffer significant losses.

This would wipe out any potential gains from a narrowing spread.

Interest Rate Risk

While the convergence trade attempts to hedge some interest rate risk, changes in Treasury yields will still impact the strategy’s performance.

They can change in unexpected ways.

Liquidity Risk

Junk bonds are often less liquid than Treasuries.

This makes them potentially more difficult to sell quickly, particularly during market stress.


Important Considerations

The Junk Bond/Treasury Convergence Strategy isn’t a “set and forget” approach.

It very much fits an active trader profile.

It requires active monitoring of both credit risk and interest rate movements.

It’s also important to understand that past performance isn’t indicative of future returns, and this strategy carries inherent risks.



The Junk Bond/Treasury Convergence Strategy can be a way for sophisticated traders to potentially profit from what they perceive as bond prices or to simply assume credit risk and try to capture a spread.

Due to the significant risks involved, it’s best suited for traders with a deep understanding of fixed-income markets, a high risk tolerance, and the ability to carefully analyze individual companies and market trends.