Ask an expert Q&A: European CLO market outlook

November 15, 2023

Learn about the CLO landscape in Europe, how it’s weathering economic turbulence and why there’s reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead.

A collateralised loan obligation (CLO) is a tried-and-true technology when it comes to investing. It has endured the test of time and has shown impressive resilience – with stellar issuances even through the disruptions of COVID-19. CLOs became popular in the early 2000s, and they play a crucial role in the markets by providing financial institutions a means to securitise and transfer credit risk.

These complex structures can be sensitive to economic conditions and changes in credit markets. So, to explore the current climate of the European CLO market, we spoke with Arlene Allen, senior vice president and head of CLO Europe. Here are some of her expert insights based on what she’s seeing in the marketplace.

Q: How have CLOs evolved over the past few years?

The CLO is a complex and highly sought-after financial instrument that represents a type of asset-backed securities. CLOs are typically created as a collection of loans – mainly syndicated loans together with some high yield bonds – which are pooled together and used as collateral to issue new securities. These new securities are then, in turn, sold to institutional investors.

Through the years, CLOs have evolved in different ways to adapt to market conditions and regulatory changes. CLO managers books have grown significantly over time, and the CLO product has delivered impressive yields to investors in varying market conditions. “Between 2008 and 2019,” according to Bloomberg Law, “the leveraged loan market – more than half of which is packaged into CLOs – increased from roughly $600 billion to $1.2 trillion.”

The growth of non-bank lending in Europe following the financial crisis has prompted managers to explore both regulated markets and debt capital markets (DCM) when looking to drive additional yield. Managers with success in the CLO space have also been successful in launching loan funds, thus generating investor appetite and opportunities in the loan funds and private credit space.

With this shift, CLOs as unregulated products have become incrementally more regulated. And in 2011, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) was introduced to enhance investor protection and promote stable and orderly financial markets.

Q: How are macroeconomic factors impacting the European CLO market right now?

CLOs are designed to take advantage of the arbitrage between their own funding costs and the rates on the underlying loans that they purchase and parcel up.

Recently, macroeconomic conditions like rising inflation, rising interest rates and geopolitical risk have been putting a squeeze on spreads. Narrowing spreads have significantly curbed CLO issuance in 2023 – particularly with sellers having difficulty finding buyers for the riskier equity tranches.

Larger CLO managers have been able to sell CLOs against this backdrop by leaning on captive equity vehicles (funds set up by managers to buy the equity tranches in their own CLOs). However, not all managers have these funds in place, which limits the number of CLOs that can be formed. Q4 2023 has seen a flurry of issuance on the back of slowing interest rates and inflationary pressures. However, in recent weeks, this window may have passed.

Leveraged buyout (LBO) and mergers & acquisitions (M&A) make up 50% of the CLO market. Activity in these sectors has also been off to a slow start this year due to the persistence of the same factors. Right now, they’re down 50% in terms of volume.

Q: Are regulations playing a role in this?

Capital adequacy requirements – for insurers under Solvency II and for banks under Basel IV – have created a more capital-intensive environment for sellers and clients in Europe, which has a ripple effect on liquidity. It causes higher hurdle rates, which in turn causes banks to step back from corporate lending, which in turn causes private credit lenders to step in and fill the gap and act as a direct competitor to banks.

Q: European CLO issuance has seen a decent dip this year. What does this mean for clients?

Overall, numerous factors are affecting CLO issuance. This means that warehouses need to be more tightly managed, and that CLOs are taking longer to build. We saw some warehouses get terminated due to lending commitments expiring. But now, we’re starting to see issuances increasing and a few new warehouses opening. There have been a lot of positive signs and optimistic indicators – it’s just a matter of timing.

At U.S. Bank, we’re a major player in the CLO servicing space. As managers look to issue deals in Europe – and for many of them, doing so for the first time – we have a lot of experience, expertise and insight to offer. We have the data to help them make informed decisions. We have the flexibility to move quickly. And we have a broad range of resources and solutions to meet their specific business needs.

Q: How has market volatility affected the CLO market?

The market has been in a volatile state due, in large part, due to a regional banking crisis that came to a head earlier this year. New CLO issuance in Europe was less buoyant than in the U.S., where it was up 30% year-over-year by the end of Q1 2023. Europe was down approximately 30% year-over-year in Q1 2023, reaching 6.7 billion euros with a similar level of decline in April. However, “five European new transactions came to the market in August,” according to Fitch Ratings, “bringing a total of EUR 3.7 billion of issuance in 3Q 23.”

Institutional investors have continued to support new CLO formation through the first half of 2023. This is evidenced by the long-term track record of low CLO default rates across economic cycles. It’s also evidenced by the steady performance of CLOs relative to the wider investment grade debt market as interest rates moved upwards in 2022.

Q: How do economic cycles factor in?

CLOs are designed to work through economic cycles. CLOs finance themselves by issuing floating rate notes, and the assets in which they invest have floating rates as well. This means that CLOs already in the market have been able to sail through the changing interest rate environment largely unaffected.

CLOs in reinvestment periods are especially well positioned. Reinvestment periods are timeframes agreed upon by investors during which CLOs can reinvest principal and interest proceeds generated from their underlying loan portfolios. CLOs within this window right now are benefiting from the opportunity to buy up discounted loans in the secondary loan market and boost returns.

Securing loans without this reinvestment advantage is prohibitively expensive at the moment, which is why so many managers are having a difficult time filling warehouses to issue new deals.

Q: How do CLOs compare to other corporate credit options?

CLOs offer good credit and stand out in the structured-product universe on a relative value basis. While arbitrage is now particularly challenging – pricing and relative value can certainly change quickly, as we’ve seen over recent years – timing is everything.

When compared to vanilla corporate credit, CLOs still look very attractive. For similar credit risk, BBB corporates are typically paying less than half the income of equivalent BBB CLOs. While CLOs have always traded wide to investment-grade credit, the basis between vanilla credit and CLOs still looks wide.

European CLOs have been one of the best performing asset classes this year. And generally speaking, European asset-backed securities have outperformed vanilla credit over the last two years due to its lack of duration. We feel optimistic that the current supply-demand dynamic should help keep spreads stable.

Q: What are your thoughts on interest rates and collateral and default risk?

After over a decade of zero interest rate policy, many business models don’t work with higher rates. Leveraged companies are most vulnerable to this due to their reduced cash flow post-rate hikes.  Defaults have been at historic lows, however, it’s inevitable that this will increase with rising interest rates.

At U.S. Bank, we have the experience, reach and technology to navigate the mechanics of complex deals with transparency, consistency and unwavering quality. As new opportunities emerge in the European CLO landscape, we can help you understand some of the new legal and structural hurdles in this fast-paced market.

For more information about our European trustee solutions, visit our website or contact us.

Learn about U.S. Bank

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How to talk to your lender about debt

Cashless business pros and cons: Should you make the switch?

Transition to international ACH

Making the cross-border payment decision: Wire or international ACH?

Accommodating the growing complexity of private equity funds

5 questions you should ask your custodian about outsourcing

Webinar: Robotic process automation

Does your savings plan match your lifestyle?

Student checklist: Preparing for college

Email marketing: 10 mistakes to avoid

Celebrity Cake Studio’s two decades of growth and success

Examining in-demand fund structures

4 reasons why estate planning is important

How to manage money tips

What are alternative investments?

Automating escheatment earns respected innovation award

How Al’s Breakfast is bringing people together

Manufacturing: 6 supply chain optimization strategies

3 tips for saving money easily

What you should know about licensing agreements

3 ways to make practical use of real-time payments

Instant Payments: Accelerating treasury disruption

4 ways Request for Payments (RfP) changes consumer bill pay

Can faster payments mean better payments?

Webinar: CRE Digital Transformation – Balancing Digitization with cybersecurity risk


Hospitals face cybersecurity risks in surprising new ways

Webinar: CRE Digital Transformation – Balancing Digitization with cybersecurity risk

Resources for managing financial matters after an unexpected death

5 steps for creating an employee recognition program

Four ways to make a strong resume for your first real job

Webinar: Uncover the cost: College diploma

How I did it: Bought a home without a 20 percent down payment

Answering the ABL question

DIY home projects 101: tips from a first-timer

Transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce

Tech tools to keep your restaurant operations running smoothly

Crypto + Homebuying: Impacts on the real estate market

Your quick guide to loans and obtaining credit

How to save for a wedding

How to hire employees: Employee referral vs. external hiring

Myths vs. facts about savings account interest rates

Do I need a credit card for my small business?

Webinar: CRE treasury leader roundtable

Military homeownership: Your guide to resources, financing and more

3 ways POS data analysis can help define your brand

U.S. Bank asks: Do you know your finances?

An eco friendly debit card with roots in Haiti

Break free from cash flow management constraints

BEC and deepfake fraud

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Home renovation

Webinar: Bank Notes: College cost comparison

Alternative investments: How to track returns and meet your goals

What goes into private equity fund calculation?

How you can prevent identity theft

Service provider due diligence and selection best practices

How tenacity brought Taste of Rondo to life

Programme debt Q&A: U.S. issuers entering the European market

Third-party vendor risk: protecting your company against cyber threats

Best practices for optimizing the tech lifecycle

Post-pandemic fraud prevention lessons for local governments

Consolidating payments for healthcare systems

Financial wellness webinars

Do I need a financial advisor?

How a bar trivia company went digital during COVID-19

Booming in the gig economy: A new chapter leveraging 45 years of experience

4 questions to ask before you buy an investment property

Collateral options for ABL: What’s eligible, what’s not?

Your guide to starting a job: Resources to help along the way

4 steps that give your business an SEO boost

How to access digital assets after a loved one's death

How much money do I need to start investing?

How does an IRA work?

How do interest rates affect investments?

Healthcare costs in retirement: Are you prepared?

Guide for investing

Good debt vs. bad debt: Know the difference

Gifting money to adult children: Give now or later?

Preparing for homeownership: A guide for LGBTQ+ homebuyers

Parent checklist: Preparing for college

What you need to know about identity theft

Military spouse’s guide to navigating your career

Automate accounts payable to optimize revenue and payments

Are you ready to restart your federal student loan payments?

Webinar: Tips to avoid today’s cyber threats

U.S. Bank asks: What do you know about credit?

Financial steps to take after the death of a spouse

Is your financial plan keeping pace with your life?

Financial fitness quiz

Estate planning documents: Living trusts vs. will vs. living will

Annual insurance review checklist

7 financial questions to consider when changing jobs

6 ways to teach your kids about giving

How to sell your business without emotions getting in the way

Webinar: 5 myths about emergency funds

How to best handle unexpected expenses

How to make the most of your business loan

Gift cards can extend ROI into 2022

5 principles for avoiding ethics pitfalls on social media