Debt Downgrades at Highest Level Since 2009

The rating agency said it downgraded 892 corporate issuers (accounting for about $6.9 trillion in rated debt) in 2015.
Matthew HellerJanuary 22, 2016
Debt Downgrades at Highest Level Since 2009

The proportion of downgrades to total rating actions reached 69% last year, the highest level since the financial crisis in 2009, but the outlook for global credit markets remains strong, according to Standard & Poor’s.

In a report released Wednesday, the rating agency said it downgraded 892 corporate issuers (accounting for about $6.9 trillion in rated debt) and upgraded 394 issuers (accounting for about $2.7 trillion) in 2015. Downgrades also were at the highest level since 2009.

The United States, with its large sample size of rated issuers, led downgrades in 2015 followed by Europe and emerging markets.

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“The emerging markets continue to deteriorate, with increased geopolitical risk, slow economic growth, and financial volatility all contributing to a rapid decline in credit quality and substantive increase in downgrade propensity,” S& P said, citing Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Argentina, and Brazil as particular trouble spots.

But elsewhere, the United States, Europe, and other developed markets are continuing to show below-average negative bias (a measure of downgrade potential). The negative bias, globally and in the U.S., has been slowly rising off historical lows for about two years, indicating a trend of steady credit deterioration, but not quite breaching historical averages, S&P noted.

“We remain guarded in our view that, while we expect further deterioration in global credit markets, we do not see a particularly disruptive or abrupt acceleration, despite a backdrop of financial and market volatility in recent weeks,” the report said.

“This view is grounded in our belief that the U.S. economy remains strong and continues to show resilience (as with the recent employment figures) and the European economy continues to gain momentum vis-à-vis its strong business and consumer confidence,” it added.

While China’s economic slowdown prompted the International Monetary Fund earlier this week to reduce its global growth forecast for this year to 3.4%, S&P said its impact “has heretofore been more pronounced with respect to market volatility than a rapid, lower revision of our ratings on global corporate (financial and nonfinancial) issuers.”