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U.S. companies feasted on low interest rates in the decade since the crisis, leaving corporate balance sheets leveraged to the hilt with some $9.1 trillion of debt, almost double the 2007 total of $4.9 trillion, according to Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. Now the Federal Reserve’s gradual tightening of its easy-money policy has investors rethinking their commitment to these assets. Bonds from dozens of formerly high-quality issuers are already trading as though they were no longer investment grade etsy cufflinks.
As interest rates rise, “the weaker links are going to be exposed,” said Kathleen Gaffney, director of diversified fixed income at Eaton Vance etsy cufflinks. After this year’s sharp slide in GE shares, its debt load now stands at roughly twice its market capitalization of $63 billion. GE’s debt is not alone in the doghouse. Bonds from Ford Motor Co (F.N), AT&T Corp (T.N), Kinder Morgan (KMI.N), CVS Health (CVS.N), General Motors Co (GM.N) and Verizon Communications (VZ.N) also ranked among the weakest performers as the year wound down. Of the bottom 20 performers, 14 were triple-B rated, the lowest tier of investment grade. GE debt has been slashed to BBB+ which is just three steps above junk, and more than a third of GE’s bonds are already trading at junk bond levels..
Bonds most likely to be downgraded to junk are expected to be among the worst performers when the next economic downturn hits, according to Monica Erickson, portfolio manager of global developed credit at DoubleLine Capital LP. She noted that around $3 trillion of triple-B bonds are now outstanding, comprising roughly half of the investment grade market, up from only about 20 percent a decade ago etsy cufflinks. “With the triple-B market worth about $3 trillion, finding a buyer in the $1.2 trillion high-yield market could be difficult” in a downturn, she said. Many fund managers are required to keep only investment-grade debt in their portfolios, so they could be forced to sell at steep discounts if the debt gets downgraded to junk..
Currently, the junk market totals $1.2 trillion etsy cufflinks. Were GE to lose investment grade status, those bonds alone would suddenly account for around 10 percent of the high-yield market. Not all triple-B credits will be downgraded in the event of a downturn, however, “you will probably have a larger percentage of this entire (investment grade) market shift into this high-yield market than has been the case historically,” Erickson said. GE’s new Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp is battling to restore profits and slash debt after the company lost $22.8 billion last quarter, mostly from its ailing power unit..
To shore up cash, it has slashed its once-fat quarterly dividend to just a penny per share, and Culp said GE would proceed with “urgency” on selling assets. Those efforts have so far fallen short in the eyes of bond holders and credit ratings agencies. In response to a request for comment, a GE spokesperson referred to Culp’s statements in its third-quarter earnings report and in recent media interviews about debt-reduction plans. All three major bond raters have slashed GE’s credit ratings twice in the last 13 months. It is now labeled “BBB+” by Standard & Poor’s, with equivalent ratings from Moody’s and Fitch etsy cufflinks.