With Corporate Debt-To-GDP At An All-Time High, The Defaults Are Coming…

Boy, oh boy.

If you weren’t worried about USD HY or about the sustainability of the bubble in credit markets more generally, then I’ve got some charts that may change your mind.

But first, just a couple of reminders here. IG has been outperforming HY for months, but remember, in an absolute sense, HY spreads and yields are still near post-crisis tights and lows, respectively.

SpreadsYields

In other words, both IG and HY are probably in bubble territory and it’s starting to feel like junk may be on the verge of unravelling. And indeed, spreads did widen a bit in August during periods when jitters about North Korea and political turmoil in the U.S. catalyzed (admittedly fleeting) flights-to-safety:

HYOAS

The main worry here is that corporates have leveraged themselves to the hilt in an environment characterized by an insatiable hunt for yield among investors. In order to keep the ravenous hordes sated, corporate management teams have simply met demand with more supply and in many cases used the proceeds to buy back shares in a “virtuous” loop that not only inflates the bottom line, but also boosts management’s equity-linked compensation. See? Everyone’s a winner! 

Well, everyone except the people who care about the balance sheet and the extent to which it’s being leveraged in pursuit of a myopic, greed-driven agenda.

SocGen

(SocGen)

This is a dynamic that SocGen’s Andrew Lapthorne has described as “clearly nonsense.”

And even though he’s “clearly” right, central banks have succeeded in short-circuiting the cycle for the time being. That is, although we would expect spreads to widen as net debt/EBITDA ratios balloon, that really hasn’t happened.

So what happens when the cycle turns? Spoiler alert: probably nothing good.

Now let’s get to the charts (and these are all from Deutsche Bank). First of all, US non-fin corporate debt-to-GDP might as well be at an all-time high and usually, when corporate debt as a percentage of GDP starts rising above trend, defaults start to pick up:

DBDebt1

As it happens, defaults generally rise with a lag as the curve flattens and wouldn’t you know it, the 2s10s is (basically) the flattest it’s been in a year:

DBDefaults2

As noted above, leverage is extremely elevated – even ex-energy:

Leverage

Finally, look how benign an environment we’re priced for in HY:

DBDefault5

I have absolutely no idea how any of that is sustainable and/or realistic.

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3 thoughts on “With Corporate Debt-To-GDP At An All-Time High, The Defaults Are Coming…

  1. Month after month, the Heissenberg and other savvy financial writers discuss and analyze the growing debt and equity bubbles. But neither they, nor we of lesser knowledge and intellect, are able to time a tipping point. So, it seems to me that rather than worrying about what thin ice upon which we are skating, we should simply wait for the definitive crack, and visible split in the ice sheet. My personal exit plan of selling stocks, and buying bear put spreads, will probably be executed over weeks, maybe months. The great unwinds of Y2K and the Great Financial Crisis took many months to complete, and many, including myself, were able to adequately hedge weeks after the tops were in.

  2. Pingback: Gasp: Companies Are Spending Less on Stocks! - Biiwii.com

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