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High Interest Rates Prime Reason for Uptick in Corporate Bankruptcies and Defaults This Year

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jun 26, 2023


There have been 41 corporate defaults in the United States so far this year, more than double the number during the same period last year, and the reasons for the increase vary, CNBC reported.

The number of companies defaulting on their debts rose last month, according to Moody’s Investors Service, a situation attributable to factors that include uncertain economic conditions and heavy debt loads, exacerbated by high interest rates, which make refinancing more difficult expensive.

The number of U.S. bankruptcy filings through April of this year also rose, from 109 last year to 236, representing the highest rate for that period since 2010.  Through June 22, there were 324 bankruptcy filings, not far behind the total of 374 in 2022, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

High interest rates are the biggest factor behind these examples of financial distress, bankers and analysts told CNBC, as higher rates make debt more expensive.

“Capital is much more expensive now,” said Mohsin Meghji, founding partner of restructuring and advisory firm M3 Partners, told CNBC. “Look at the cost of debt. You could reasonably get debt financing for 4 percent to 6 percent any point on average over the last 15 years. Now that cost of debt has gone up to 9 percent to 13 percent.”

The biggest default in May was that of emergency medical services provider Envision Healthcare, which had more than $7 billion in debt when it filed for bankruptcy, according to Moody’s. Other large bankruptcy filings this year included those of home security and alarm company Monitronics International, regional financial institution Silicon Valley Bank, retail chain Bed Bath & Beyond, and regional sports network owner Diamond Sports, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Moody’s expects the global default rate to rise to 4.6 percent by the end of the year, higher than the long-term average of 4.1 percent, and projects it to rise to 5 percent by April 2024 before easing.

Mark Hootnick, co-head of capital transformation and debt advisory at Solomon Partners, foresaw more defaults because, until now, “we’ve been in an environment of incredibly lax credit, where, frankly, companies that shouldn’t be tapping the debt markets have been able to do so without limitations,” he told CNBC.

Industry-specific reasons also played a role, too. Envision faced health-care issues stemming from the pandemic, Bed Bath & Beyond had a large store footprint while many customers shopped online, and Diamond Sports was affected by consumers dropping cable TV packages.

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