Two Picks for a Credit Recovery

10/29/2009 1:00 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Elliott Gue

Editor and Publisher, Energy and Income Advisor and Capitalist Times

Elliott Gue, editor of Personal Finance, says corporate debt markets have begun to stabilize, allowing two credit-dependent companies to breathe a lot easier.

A year after the height of the panic, banks continue to tighten lending standards for mortgages, and the popular press routinely decries the lack of a rebound in consumer credit despite unprecedented government intervention to stimulate borrowing.

But they’re missing the real story: renewed growth in corporate credit and the return of rationality to debt markets. Companies are taking advantage of improved conditions: Issuance of high-yield debt topped $50 billion in the second quarter of 2009, the highest level since the second quarter of 2007, the height of the credit boom.

Seaspan (NYSE: SSW) owns a fleet of 40 container ships that carry goods on routes between Asia, Europe, and the US. It’s been hit by the credit crunch and resulting financial panic in two key ways.

First, the company has around 30 new container ships slated for delivery over the next few years. The company, like most shipping operators, financed the purchase of these ships with debt. Many investors feared Seaspan wouldn’t have credit lines in place to accept delivery of these new vessels.

Second, Seaspan leases most of its ships under long-term charter contracts to major international shipping companies. Some of the firm’s biggest customers also carry significant debt burdens.

Amid the global slowdown in trade, there was a real risk they’d be unable to honor the terms of their charters with Seaspan, exposing the companies to the volatile spot market for container ships amid a global downturn. But with credit markets normalizing, this risk has eased.

And there are signs of resurgence in global trade. Statistics released by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, show a sharp increase in loaded container traffic, which recently reached levels last seen before Lehman collapsed. Seaspan, with a yield of nearly 5%, rates a buy under $12. (It closed above $9 Wednesday—Editor.)

Our top-performing stock for the [third] quarter was AMR Corp (NYSE: AMR), the parent of American Airlines. The main catalyst for its outperformance was an improvement in credit markets that’s allowed AMR to shore up its financial position. Although the airlines have a track record of losing money for investors, the group has historically been among the strongest in the early stages of economic recovery.

The year-over-year decline in US airfares—an indicator of demand—has leveled off. And there are some signs of a tentative recovery in business class airfares. [AMR] raised more than $4 billion in September through a combination of new debt, new stock offerings, and financing collateralized by its aircraft. AMR now expects to end the quarter with $4.4 billion in available liquidity.

AMR Corp is a buy under $9.25 but is only appropriate for risk-tolerant investors. (The stock closed below $6 Wednesday—Editor.)

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