Moody’s warns – bondholders face high defaults

Dusseldorf The risk for international bond creditors caused by Corona is given a house number for the first time: corporate bonds totaling more than $ 174 billion, the rating agency Moody’s announced on Wednesday, are currently among the financial stocks threatened by the epidemic.

This figure corresponds to the outstanding bonds of those 25 percent of the large companies rated speculatively (“non-investment grade”) by Moody’s that have lost a large part of their current income due to official orders: above all the non-food retail trade, followed by the Car industry to the leisure and catering trade.

The energy sector is also indirectly affected, which represents a further 2.4 percent of the group bonds issued worldwide. The oil price shock is throwing business on them these days.

“We will also see a contagion effect in other industries,” warns Moody’s manager Jeanine Arnold. Business service providers, chemical companies and raw material suppliers are exposed to high risks as suppliers.

Even the telecommunications sector, which is hardly affected by the corona crisis at the moment, could be affected at different times. There is usually a correlation between sales development and gross national product, observes Moody’s. With the “unprecedented shock” for the economy of the G20 countries, it is expected there, telecommunications revenues will shrink – but with a delay of one year.

Investors have suspected that the biggest failures from the non-food retail sector are to be feared, not only since the protective shield procedures for the Esprit fashion retailer and the Essen-based department store group Karstadt Kaufhof. A look at the latest reports from the rating agency Standard & Poor’s confirm the concern.

In the past two weeks alone, she has classified industry giants such as Fossil, Levi Strauss, the US department store Neiman Marcus and the British fashion retailer in this sector Matalan down – all now with a non-investment grade. S&P even certified the last two with an “CCC” rating, an acute risk of late payment. Even the hotel chains Hilton and Wyndham, which also got a speculative “BB” thanks to Corona at Easter, are still stable in comparison.

Rapid descent

For bond artists, the situation has escalated at an immense pace. Among the speculative European bonds – that is, from a rating of “Ba1” downwards – there will be a default of 7.8 percent by the end of the year, Moody’s expects. By March 2021, it could even be eight percent. In the twelve months to March 2020, however, the default rate was just 1.7 percent.

Between early March 2020 and April 9, 22 percent of all companies rated by Moody’s as “speculative” received a devaluation. Companies from retail and the automotive industry in particular were often down several levels.

“In addition, the corona crisis will significantly widen the gap between relatively financially strong and financially weak companies,” warns Moody’s manager Arnold. For example, issuers classified as moderately speculative (“Ba”) only had three devaluations between the beginning of March and April 9 that made up more than one meter, while the poorer credit ratings (“B” and below) gave 33.

Speculative issuers tend to have weaker market positions, are more geographically defined and focus on fewer customers and suppliers, Moody’s explains. In some cases, they would have a higher fixed cost share, which limits operational flexibility. This makes it difficult for them to react to the suddenly and unforeseen restrictions.

Investment grade companies, on the other hand, would typically have better access to sources of finance, often to equity. In addition, there would often be levers to limit the outflow of funds – for example through dividend cuts or the provision of investments.

Such conditions currently count not least for government aid programs. In Britain, for example, the government has made the CCFF program explicitly available to investment grade companies. In other countries, including Germany, the banks have to guarantee part of the government loans. Moody’s believe that this limits the prospects for companies that were considered “speculative” even before the corona crisis. The tour operator Tuiwho received a EUR 1.8 billion KfW loan is an exception here.

More: With Daimler, BMW and ford It hit the first: The corona crisis is causing rating agencies to downgrade car companies. It can go further down.

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