Corporate borrowers across the world have defaulted on $50 billion of debt so far this year as the number of delinquent companies accelerates at its fastest pace since the financial crisis in 2009.
According to Standard & Poor’s nearly half of the defaults have occurred in the oil/gas and mining industries.
All caused by the sharp decline in commodity prices, slowing global growth and lacklustre demand for base metals and crude.
The latest defaults: Peabody Energy, Energy XXI and Goodrich Petroleum
Fitch says defaults in junk-rated corporate bonds are on track to reach a two-year high.
April defaults already total $14 billion, the largest monthly default volume since $20.3 billion registered in April 2014, according to the report by the credit rating company.
“The second quarter will not see a reprieve in defaults,” said Eric Rosenthal, senior director of leveraged finance at Fitch. “April defaults alone will nearly match the $15.7 billion tallied during the first quarter.”
This tsunami of defaults will hurt investors more than ever before simply because of the mountain of debt accumulated in an environment of low interest rates.
Leverage levels have been rising as more companies realising they’re in use borrowings to refinance existing liabilities. They buy back shares and take other steps that do not increase asset values.
But it’s like putting a bandaid on a wound.
Analyst Albert Edwards at SocGen predicts that the wave of defaults foreshadows a recession.
“Historically, when whole economy profits fall this deeply, recession is virtually inevitable as business spending slumps. And if I had to pick one asset class to avoid it would be US corporate bonds, for which sky high default rates will shock investors,’’ Edwards says.
“When whole economy profits begin to fall sharply, this is usually followed shortly after by the overall economy tipping over into recession, driven by the volatile business investment cycle.”