May 15, 2020 / 8:35 AM / 20 days ago

Credit rating 'fallen angel' danger at record high: S&P Global

LONDON (Reuters) - The number of companies or countries at risk of seeing their credit ratings cut to junk from investment grade has been pushed to a record high of 111 by the coronavirus pandemic, S&P Global analysis shows.

The number of “fallen angels” has already reached 24 this year, impacting over $300 billion in debt, S&P estimates. The 111 potential fallen angels have another $444 billion of bonds, meaning the amount is likely to spiral much further.

Potential fallen angels are significant because the prospect of losing investment-grade ratings can lead investors to sell the bonds in favour of more creditworthy companies, pushing up their borrowing costs.

“Credit pressure continues to build,” S&P said, highlighting that nearly a quarter of the record 111 firms at risk of being cut to junk were also on explicit downgrade warnings.

Major global names like Ford (F.N), Kraft Heinz (KHC.O), Renault (RENA.PA), Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), and Macy’s (M.N) and Marks & Spencer in the retail sector have already been stripped of their investment-grade stripes since the coronavirus shuttered major economies.

The list of potential fallen angels has some equally high-profile names, including European flag-carriers British Airways and Lufthansa (LHAG.DE), global hotel chains Hyatt (H.N) and Marriott (MAR.O), and mining giants ArcelorMittal (MT.AS) and Brazil’s Vale (VALE3.SA).

The difference in option-adjusted spreads for firms rated “BBB-minus”, the last rung of investment grade, and “BB-plus”, the first step into junk, reflects the increase in financing costs of being downgraded to junk.

With risk aversion still relatively high, this difference peaked at 284 basis points for U.S. firms toward the end of March, higher than the peak of 247 basis points during the financial crisis. Though it has eased since, it remained elevated at 234 bps at the start of May.

“The record-high number of issuers with ratings on CreditWatch negative indicates the fragility of credit conditions amid the economic and financial pressures from COVID-19,” S&P said.

(Graphic: Potential 'fallen angels' by sector link: here)

Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Iain Withers and Leslie Adler

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