The boom in dodgy US corporate debt

Investors are flocking back into CDOs – the debt instruments implicated in the financial crisis. But this time hedge funds have a new darling: corporate debt.

Investors are "flocking" back to the same kind of debt instruments implicated in the financial crisis, says Joe Rennison in the Financial Times. So-called "synthetic" collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) bundle together derivatives ultimately linked to bonds and loans. But where banks piled into CDOs backed by subprime mortgages in the years prior to the 2008 crash, this time hedge funds have a new darling: corporate debt.

There's plenty of it to bundle up. Non-financial business debt-to-GDP in America has ballooned over the past seven years to a record of around 78% of GDP, almost as high as household debt. Loans going to already heavily indebted borrowers, known as leveraged loans, grew by 20% in 2018 to $1.1trn, while their share of the market is at a record high.Defaults are low for now, but if the American economy weakens or interest rates shoot up thanks to an inflation scare, it'll be a different story.

Why the debt binge? Record-low interest rates are one reason; financing share buybacks to juice earnings-per-share and stock prices are another. S&P 500 firms doled out a record-breaking $1.25trn in dividends and buybacks last year.

Buybacks have been a crucial "pillar of support" for US markets in the post-crisis years, says Robin Wigglesworth in the Financial Times. Any corporate "buyback diet" would undermine the post-crisis bull market.

Recommended

The US Federal Reserve is about to rein in its money-printing – what does that mean for markets?
US Economy

The US Federal Reserve is about to rein in its money-printing – what does that mean for markets?

America’s central bank is talking surprisingly tough about tightening monetary policy. And it’s not the only one. John Stepek looks at what it all mea…
23 Sep 2021
Should investors be worried about stagflation?
US Economy

Should investors be worried about stagflation?

The latest US employment data has raised the ugly spectre of “stagflation” – weak growth and high inflation. John Stepek looks at what’s going on and …
6 Sep 2021
So much for the taper tantrum
Government bonds

So much for the taper tantrum

Rather than throwing a tantrum at the prospect of a cut in US monetary stimulus, as confirmed by US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell, investors …
3 Sep 2021
Will Jerome Powell lay out a tapering timetable today? Probably not
US Economy

Will Jerome Powell lay out a tapering timetable today? Probably not

Investors will be looking for clues on the future of US monetary policy at the Jackson Hole Event today. John Stepek breaks down what investors can ex…
27 Aug 2021

Most Popular

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer
Investment strategy

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer

Inflation need not be a worry unless it is driven by labour market shortages. Unfortunately, writes macroeconomist Philip Pilkington, that’s exactly w…
17 Sep 2021
What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us
Inflation

What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us

As UK inflation hits 3.2%, Dominic Frisby compares the cost of living 50 years ago with that of today, and explains how debt drives prices higher.
15 Sep 2021
The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021