What’s New with Corporate Leverage?
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) started increasing rates on March 16, 2022, and after the January 31–February 1, 2023, FOMC meeting, the lower bound of the target range of the federal funds rate had reached 4.50 percent, a level last registered in November 2007. Such a rapid rates increase could pass through to higher funding costs for U.S. corporations. In this post, we examine how corporate leverage and bond market debt have evolved over the course of the current tightening cycle and compare the current experience to that during the previous three tightening cycles.
How Is the Corporate Bond Market Functioning as Interest Rates Increase?
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has increased the target interest rate by 3.75 percentage points since March 17, 2022. In this post we examine how corporate bond market functioning has evolved along with the changes in monetary policy through the lens of the U.S. Corporate Bond Market Distress Index (CMDI). We compare this evolution to the 2015 tightening cycle for context on how bond market conditions have evolved as rates increase. The overall CMDI has deteriorated but remains close to historical medians. The investment-grade CMDI index has deteriorated more than the high-yield, driven by low levels of primary market issuance.
What Is Corporate Bond Market Distress?
Corporate bonds are a key source of funding for U.S. non-financial corporations and a key investment security for insurance companies, pension funds, and mutual funds. Distress in the corporate bond market can thus both impair access to credit for corporate borrowers and reduce investment opportunities for key financial sub-sectors. In a February 2021 Liberty Street Economics post, we introduced a unified measure of corporate bond market distress, the Corporate Bond Market Distress Index (CMDI), then followed up in early June 2022 with a look at how corporate bond market functioning evolved over 2022 in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tightening of U.S. monetary policy. Today we are launching the CMDI as a regularly produced data series, with new readings to be published each month. In this post, we describe what constitutes corporate bond market distress, motivate the construction of the CMDI, and argue that secondary market measures alone are insufficient to capture market functioning.