Call it the Predators' Bawl.
Attendance was "strictly limited" to the 400 people invited this month to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to celebrate Michael Milken and the $640 billion junk-bond market he created.
Only 100 people showed up, and there wasn't a Carl Icahn, Rupert Murdoch or other big corporate raider in the bunch. To Alan Schlesinger and other Milken admirers who recall the excitement of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.'s annual bash at the Beverly Hilton in the 1980s, the High Yield Summit's sparse turnout was an indication of how low the debt securities that financed thousands of takeovers have sunk this year.
"It's a market that has created a lot of orphans," said Schlesinger, a director at BNP Capital Markets LLC, complaining that junk-bond trading has all but dried up.
Russia defaulted on $40 billion of debt in August 1998, scaring investors who this year pulled more than $2 billion from high-yield mutual funds in just three months, according to AMG Data Services. Sales of new junk bonds have tumbled 36 percent this year, to $90 billion.
Junk-bond critics have long predicted the demise of the market. But even after Milken was jailed for securities fraud and Drexel went out of business in 1990, the junk-bond market grew sixfold, driven by sales from emerging telecommunications and media firms. For the first seven years of the decade, junk-bond investors got average annual returns of 15 percent.
The market reversed course after Russia's default, as junk bonds fell almost 9 percent in three months.