Leverage of Non-Financials and High Yield Maturity Wall

Yiwei Tang

July 30, 2015

Leverage of Non-Financials and High Yield Maturity Wall Photo

One of the myths often heard after the 2008 financial crisis is that corporation balance sheets are stronger than ever. It is true that corporate liquidity -- which is measured by cash position and debt maturity profile -- did improve; however, corporate leverage, an important indicator of balance sheet strength, has recently reached a record high. Unfortunately, higher is not healthier.

This week's chart shows the ratio of net debt to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) for non-financial firms, the most commonly used metric for net leverage. This metric climbed to a 15-year high, to 1.91, in the first quarter of this year, according to J.P. Morgan. The ratio was at 1.35 at the end of 2006. Goldman Sachs data tells the same story. Its preferred metric for net leverage -- the median ratio of net debt to operating income before depreciation -- stood at 1.71 in investment grade (IG) at the end of the first quarter, increasing from 1.55 in 2014. Net debt has grown 10.1% year-over-year while earnings remain flat. The market is seeing record investment-grade supply. Leverage is cheap (lower debt yield than equity yield), making debt-funded merger and acquisitions (M&A), dividends, and share buybacks attractive.

Another interesting topic related to the credit cycle is the correlation between maturity wall and default rate. Only 15% of outstanding high yield debt will mature in the next three years. People tend to use this as a reason to forecast low default rates in the next few years. However, recent GMO research shows there is little correlation between maturity wall and default rate. Actually, the last two high-default periods happened when the maturity wall was 2 or 3 years away.

Key Takeaways: Leverage for non-financial firms is weakening as debt issuance has outpaced EBITDA growth. The leverage for financial firms has improved during the same period because of regulatory requirements. In addition, the predicting power of maturity wall is not as strong as people thought.

Tags: Chart of the Week | High-Yield Bonds | Leveraged credit | Defaults | Debt | Credit cycle | Maturity wall | J.P. Morgan | Goldman Sachs

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This material is for informational use only. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn Mutual Asset Management.  This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and it is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy.

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