Is it time to get back into energy bonds?

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Energy bonds took a hit from fears low oil prices would spur a surge in defaults, but most issuers should stay resilient, Goldman Sachs said.

"Sector fundamentals will no doubt deteriorate sharply as a result of the 'New Oil Order' that has been ushered in by the emergence of shale oil technology," Goldman said in a note Thursday. But it added, "High-yield exploration and production [companies] will prove surprisingly resilient in their ability to weather low oil prices without large-scale defaults."

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Concerns about energy-sector debt have sent widened their yield spreads. Investment grade, high-yield and emerging market energy sector corporate bond yields are trading around 27-150 basis points wider compared with their levels in June of last year, Goldman noted. Bond yields move inversely to their prices.

Oil prices have plunged, with Brent crude trading around $59.17 a barrel in Asian trade Friday compared with over $115 in June.

That's affected the broader bond market as well. Goldman noted that energy makes up around 17 percent of the Yield Book Citi High Yield bond index by par value and around 7.5 percent of the investment-grade bond market. The emerging market energy sector makes up roughly 33 percent of the emerging market debt in the iBoxx U.S. dollar index, Goldman said.

Transitory effect

But Goldman expects the effect of oil's plunge on bonds will be "transitory." While it doesn't expect an oil rebound --forecasting WTI will remain in the mid-$40s for the next few quarters before rising to $65 by year-end -- it expects risk sentiment to improve.

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"Lower oil prices are mostly supply driven; hence we view low oil prices as a global growth stimulus and thus a boost to credit risk appetite via lower recession risk," Goldman said.

In addition, Goldman views default risks among high-yield E&Ps as benign, noting most have low refinancing risk, with less than 10 percent of the total issued debt maturing before 2018.

The companies also have solid liquidity, with the "average" high-yield E&P player able to weather three quarters of a sub-$50-a-barrel WTI price, Goldman said.

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"We expect the most highly levered balance sheets with the poorest asset quality to end up in default, but we think most firms will not," Goldman said. It expects high-yield defaults will rise to 3.2 percent by end-year from 1.9 percent currently, noting that even if it rises as high as 4 percent, that's around the long-term average for the high-yield market.

Opportunities

Others are also looking to energy sector credit for opportunities.

"We all know what's happened with the price of oil. The energy component has really underperformed," said Carl Eichstaedt, a portfolio manager at Western Asset, which has $466 billion under management. "There are some survivors and some companies that may not; but if you identify those that will survive, I think there is tremendous opportunity in energy high-yield," Eichstaedt said in a note Monday.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1