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For The First Time In 2016, Junk Bond Defaults Are Decelerating

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Earlier this week, we pointed out that we have now anniversaried the low print of oil and gas prices from 2015, and going forward the "base effect" will kick in, sending headline inflation higher, and maybe even sharply higher if oil continues its ascent into the Vienna OPEC meeting. Perhaps an even more interesting base effect was pointed out earlier today by Goldman, which points out that after climbing in virtually linear fashion all year, corporate defaults - particularly in the energy sector - have started to decline for the first time.


As readers will recall, going into the year, many market participants expressed concerns about the outlook for defaults and downgrades. The fear was that the weak state of corporate balance sheets could cause defaults and downgrades in the Energy and Metals and Mining sectors to spill over into the broader market, especially if corporations continue to struggle to generate organic growth. And while this story is certainly not over yet, it appears that at lest for the time being between the latest - and biggest yet - burst in global central bank liquidity, and rising oil prices, even the most inefficient and leveraged companies appear to have gotten a reprieve for the moment, or as Goldman puts it, "beyond the limited contagion to the broader market, there is also mounting evidence that a gradual recovery in HY defaults and downgrades within commodities-exposed sectors is underway."


What this means is that as the chart below shows, for the first time this year, HY defaults have decelerated, especially amongst Metals and Mining and Energy issuers where default risk has been heavily concentrated.




HY ex-Energy default rate at post-crisis lows, limited spillover

12-month trailing issuer-weighted HY ex-Energy and Metals and Mining default rate


The 12-month trailing default rate declined to 5.40% in September after climbing through most of 2016 and peaking at 5.71% in August, according to issuer-weighted data collected from Moody’s. And with commodities sectors accounting for nearly three quarters of the total defaulted debt over the past year, the improvement in the Energy and Metals and Mining default trend remains central to the gradual recovery for the HY market overall. In fact, not a single Metals and Mining issuer has defaulted since May, while the monthly default frequency has also slowed down meaningfully for Energy issuers since July, as shown in the next chart below.




As Goldman puts it, "this is a welcome change after defaults amongst Energy producers escalated with rapid intensity from 1.27% at the beginning of 2015 to all-time highs at 29% in August, when using monthly-refreshed cohorts." And now, the default cycle is shifting back into reverse, at least until the next and perhaps bigger oil price shock.


It is, however, very bad news for Saudi Arabia and OPEC, as it means that the peak balance sheet pressure facing US shale companies has now passed, and together with those companies which have restructured, and come out of bankrupty without a debt overhang, there is now a smooth runway for much more crude production in the coming months, something which will lead to even greater record output in the near future and ultimately - once supply and demand again matter - far lower prices and the cycle can begin afresh.





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