Junk Bond Avalanche Looms for Credit Markets

by Nelson D. Schwartz
The New York Times
3/15/2010

When the Mayans envisioned the world coming to an end in 2012 — at least in the Hollywood telling — they didn’t count junk bonds among the perils that would lead to worldwide disaster.

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Maybe they should have, because 2012 also is the beginning of a three-year period in which more than $700 billion in risky, high-yield corporate debt begins to come due, an extraordinary surge that some analysts fear could overload the debt markets.

With huge bills about to hit corporations and the federal government around the same time, the worry is that some companies will have trouble getting new loans, spurring defaults and a wave of bankruptcies.

The United States government alone will need to borrow nearly $2 trillion in 2012, to bridge the projected budget deficit for that year and to refinance existing debt.

Indeed, worries about the growth of national, or sovereign, debt prompted Moody’s Investors Service to warn on Monday that the United States and other Western nations were moving “substantially” closer to losing their top-notch Aaa credit ratings…

…Most critics of deficit spending have focused on the budget gap alone, but Washington will actually have to borrow $1.8 trillion in 2012, because $859 billion in old bonds will come due and have to be refinanced in addition to the deficit. By 2013 and 2014, $1.4 trillion will have to be raised annually.

In the late 1990s, the federal government ran a surplus and actually paid down a small portion of the national debt. But with the huge deficits of the last few years, the national debt has grown to more than $12 trillion.

Next in line are companies with investment-grade credit ratings. They must refinance $1.2 trillion in loans between 2012 and 2014, including $526 billion in 2012. Finally, there is the looming rollover of commercial mortgage-backed securities, which will double in the next three years, hitting $59.7 billion in 2012.

Even if most of the debt does get refinanced, companies may have to pay more, if heavy government borrowing causes rates for all borrowers to rise.

“These are huge numbers,” said Tom Atteberry, who manages $5.6 billion in bonds for First Pacific Advisors, and is particularly alarmed by Washington’s borrowing. “Other players will get crowded out or have to pay significantly more, because the government is borrowing so much.”

The entire article is at the New York Times.

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