We know roughly the size and scope of the coming default wave because we know the history of the U.S. corporate debt market. As the sizes of corporate bond deals have grown over time, each wave of defaults has led to bigger and bigger defaults.
Here’s the pattern.
Default rates on “speculative” bonds are normally less than 5%. That means less than 5% of noninvestment-grade, U.S. corporate debt defaults in a year. But when the rate breaks above that threshold, it goes through a three- to four-year period of rising, peaking, and then normalizing defaults. This is the normal credit cycle. It’s part of a healthy capitalistic economy, where entrepreneurs have access to capital and frequently go bankrupt.
If you’ll look back through recent years, you can see this cycle clearly…
In 1990, default rates jumped from around 4% to more than 8%. The next year (1991), default rates peaked at more than 11%. Then default rates began to decline, reaching 6% in 1992. By 1993, the crisis was over and default rates normalized at 2.5%. Around $50 billion in corporate debt went into default during this cycle of distress.
Six years later, in 1999, the distress cycle began to crank up again. Default rates hit 5.5% that year and jumped again in 2000 and 2001 – hitting almost 8.7%. They began to fall in late 2002, reaching normal levels by 2003.
Interestingly, the amount of capital involved in this cycle was much, much larger: Almost $500 billion became embroiled in default. The growth in risky lending was powered by the innovation of the credit default swap (CDS) market. It allowed far riskier loans to be financed. As a result, the size of the bad corporate debts had grown by 10 times in only one credit cycle.
The most recent cycle is the one you’re most familiar with – the mortgage crisis.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…