Tyler Durden: A month ago we wrote that with oil plunging, the flipside of the widely documented “secret” deal by Obama/Kerry with the Saudis to crush Russia with low, low oil prices, is that none other than America’s own shale industry would be placed under the microscope soon, as its viability at a price well below the shale industry’s cost curve is suddenly put in doubt.
We concluded that “while we understand if Saudi Arabia is employing a dumping strategy to punish the Kremlin as per the “deal” with Obama’s White House, very soon there will be a very vocal, very insolvent and very domestic shale community demanding answers from the Obama administration, as once again the “costs” meant to punish Russia end up crippling the only truly viable industry under the current presidency. As a reminder, the last time Obama threatened Russia with “costs”, he sent Europe into a triple-dip recession. It would truly be the crowning achievement of Obama’s career if, amazingly, he manages to bankrupt the US shale “miracle” next.”
Since then crude has continued to slide, and both Brent and WTI are now trading at a price where just a year ago would seem ludicrous: in the mid-$70s. And the future of America’s “shale miracle” has only gotten ever murkier since a month ago.
But suddenly it is not just the shale companies that are starting to look impaired. According to a Deutsche Bank analysis looking at what the “tipping point” for highly levered companies is in “oil price terms”, things start to get really ugly should crude drop another $15 or so per barrel. Its conclusion: “we would expect to see 1/3rd of US energy Bs/CCCs to restructure, which would imply a 15% default rate for overall US HY energy, and a 2.5% contribution to the broad US HY default rate…. A shock of that magnitude could be sufficient to trigger a broader HY market default cycle, if materialized. ”
Here are the details:
So how big of an impact on fundamentals should we expect from the move in oil price so far and where is the true tipping point for the sector?Let’s start with some basic data point describing the energy sector – it is the largest single industry component of the USD DM HY index, however, given this market’s relatively good sector diversification, it only represents 16% of its market value (figure 2). Energy is noticeably tilted towards higher quality, with BB/B/CCC proportions at 53/35/12, compared to overall market at 47/37/17. We find further confirmation to this higher-quality tilt by looking at Figure 3 below, which shows its leverage being around 3.4x compared to 4.0x for overall market. Similarly, their interest coverage stands at noticeably higher levels, even having declined substantially in recent years (Figure 4).
Energy issuer leverage has increased faster than that of the rest of the market in recent years, but this trend has largely exhausted itself in recent quarters. As Figure 5 demonstrates, growth rates in total debt outstanding among US HY energy names have been only slightly higher relative to the rest of HY market. It is almost certain in our mind that with the current shakeout in this space further incremental leverage will be a lot harder to come by going forward.
Perhaps the most unsustainable trend that existed in energy going into this episode shown in Figure 6, which plots the sector’s overall capex expenditure, as a pct of EBITDAs. The graph averaged 150% level over the past four years, clearly the kind of development that could not sustain itself over a longer-term horizon. Our 45%-full sample of issuers reporting Q3 numbers has shown this figure coming down to 110%, a move in the right direction, and yet a level that suggests further capacity for decline. This chart also shows, perhaps better than any other we have seen, the extent to which current economic recovery in the US has in fact been driven by the energy development story alone.
The next question we would like to address here is to what extent the move in oil so far could translate into actual credit losses across the energy sector. To help us approach this question we are borrowing from the material we are going to discuss in-depth in next week’s report on our views on timing/extent of the upcoming default cycle. For the purposes of the current exercise we will limit ourselves to saying that we have identified total debt/enterprise value (D/EV) as an important factor helping us narrow down the list of potential defaulters. Specifically,our historical analysis shows that names that go into restructuring, on average, have their D/EV ratio at 65% two years prior to default, and, expectedly, this ratio rises all the way to 100% at the time of restructuring. From experiences in 2008-09 credit cycle we have also determined that there was a 1:3 relationship between the number of defaulting issuers and the number of issuers trading at 65%+ D/EV prior to the cycle. Again, we are going to present detailed evidence behind these assumptions in the next week’s report.