The collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank over the weekend continue to dominate headlines and send ripples through markets. But even before the pair of bank failures, 2023 was on track for a nasty year for corporate defaults across the globe.
According to S&P Global Ratings, 23 companies defaulted in the first two months of the year, including 15 in February alone. That’s the highest year-to-date total since 2009, during the depths of the global financial crisis.
“Nearly three-quarters of February defaults came from U.S.-based issuers, and U.S. corporate defaults this year are already over 2.5x higher than the year-to-date 2022 total,” wrote S&P Global Ratings’ Nicole Serino on Monday.
Year to date, the most defaults have been in the retail and media, and entertainment industries.
That would seem to be worrisome, but the rockier environment isn’t showing up in credit spreads, or the premium on yields of corporate bonds over risk-free Treasuries. The ICE BofA U.S. Corporate Index Option-Adjusted Spread—which includes U.S. investment-grade corporate bonds—is at about 1.3 percentage points, down from more than 1.7 points in October. That spread jumped to over 3 points in the 2020s Covid-19 market panic, and to about 6.4 points in late 2008. The recent trend is similar for high-yield bonds.
Absolute yields on bonds are higher than they have been in years, but investors aren’t being paid much to take risk these days.