Liquidity Woes Hit Non-Energy Junk Bond Issuers

Moody's Investors Service said its Liquidity Stress Index (LSI) jumped to 7.9% in January from 6.8% in December 2015.
Matthew HellerFebruary 3, 2016

A measure of stress in the junk bond market reached a six-year high in January as liquidity weakness started to spread beyond the energy industry, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The rating agency said its Liquidity Stress Index (LSI) jumped to 7.9% in January from 6.8% in December 2015, the highest since December 2009 and the biggest one-month gain since March 2009.

The energy sector continues to be the main driver of liquidity weakness, with the LSI for oil and gas increasing to 21.4% in January from 19.6% in December, just slightly below its 24.5% recessionary peak in March 2009. But Moody’s noted that some companies in other sectors are beginning to face liquidity challenges.

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The LSI excluding the oil and gas sector jumped to 4.5% in January, the highest level since November 2010.

Companies in the oil and gas and mining sectors have issued nearly $2 trillion in bonds globally since 2010, many of them in the junk category. With low oil prices continuing to pummel the energy industry, Moody’s warned last month that companies in the sector are facing a spike in defaults and downgrades, while investors in their debt are looking at major losses.

Six of the 10 downgrades to Moody’s weakest liquidity rating, SGL-4, in January were outside of energy, although they included two suppliers to commodity companies, GrafTech International and Fairmount Santrol, which were both lowered because of their exposure to the steel and oil and gas sectors, respectively.

The other non-energy downgrades to SGL-4 were 99 Cents Only Stores, Postmedia Network, Spanish Broadcasting System, and Noranda Aluminum Acquisition

“Operating weakness and maturities coming due in early 2017 are straining the liquidity of companies of some low-rated companies,” John Puchalla, a Moody’s senior vice president, said in a news release. “As borrowing rates rise and credit markets tighten, companies closer to the margin will find it challenging to cost-effectively refinance their upcoming debt maturities.”