Banks' recent tightening of credit standards could mean an increase in the rate of bond defaults over the next 12 months, analysts said.
Whatever problems may be lurking, they have yet to produce a significant spike in defaults by high-yield borrowers. Indeed, high-yield defaults tracked by Moody's actually dipped to 5.4% in May, after having held steady for several months at 5.6%. But the percentage of issuers who default on their bonds is expected to go as high as 7.9% over the next year, partly as a result of the tightening.
In a departure from last year's trend, when specific macroeconomic events hit industries like health care and energy, no sector stands out as especially distressed, said Michael Rowan, managing director and co-head of leveraged finance at Moody's Investors Service.
Instead, in a more general fashion, banks' credit-tightening in the current high interest rate environment has hurt companies' abilities to refinance, thus squeezing those that may have already been weakened by their own operating problems.
"There's a broad deterioration across a multiple of sectors," Mr. Rowan said. Some isolated cases in retailing have emerged in recent weeks, though not enough to represent a trend, said analysts. While not quite a credit squeeze, the tightening of terms has played at least some role in the decisions by several non-investment-grade companies in recent weeks to file for bankruptcy.
Just last week Stage Stores Inc. in Houston filed for Chapter 11. Besides $235 million in loans, Stage Stores has $200 million in senior guaranteed notes and $100 million in senior subordinated notes. Eagle Food Centers, a regional chain of supermarkets, in Milan, Ill., in February entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
But analysts said the pockets of weakness in retail are not sizable enough to raise serious questions about the industry or to supplant health care as the main concern among lenders. A rebound in prices for energy, most notably oil, has helped lift that industry out of its weak spell. Health care, however, remains a weak spot even though some bankers have said the worst days are behind them with respect to loan exposures in that area.