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

Why Wall Street has got the US economy wrong again
Economy

Why Wall Street has got the US economy wrong again

The hiring slowdown does not signal recession for the US economy. Growth is just moving down a gear, says Brian Pellegrini.
25 Oct 2019
What the race for the White House means for your money
US election

What the race for the White House means for your money

American voters are about to decide whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden will take the oath of office on 20 January. Matthew Partridge explains how vario…
15 Oct 2020
The riskiest election in US history
US election

The riskiest election in US history

Donald Trump’s illness has rattled markets as investors try to understand the implications of an incapacitated American president or a bitterly contes…
8 Oct 2020
Investing in bonds: what are fallen angels and why have they been such good investments?
Sponsored

Investing in bonds: what are fallen angels and why have they been such good investments?

In the first of a series of articles on different aspects of investing in bonds, David explains what “fallen angels” – and what purpose they serve in …
28 Sep 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020
What would negative interest rates mean for your money?
UK Economy

What would negative interest rates mean for your money?

There has been much talk of the Bank of England introducing negative interest rates. John Stepek explains why they might do that, and what it would me…
15 Oct 2020