Should Investors Worry About Soaring Corporate Debt? (SPY)

From John Rubino: So many patterns that have held for decades seem to have broken down, leading to one of two conclusions: Either this time really is different in ways that appear to violate what used to be seen as iron-clad laws of finance, or those laws have been bent but will reassert themselves with a vengeance sometime in the future.

The latest example is the relationship between corporate debt and default rates on that debt. Historically they’ve moved in the same direction, with higher debt levels leading to higher default rates. That makes intuitive sense because rising debt implies that borrowing is easier for less creditworthy companies who should be expected to default at a higher rate.

But not this time:

Here’s why default rates are subdued even as corporate debt levels hit records

(MarketWatch) – U.S. corporate debt levels stand above crisis highs even as default rates among the most leveraged firms remain subdued.

With an economy hitting its stride, it’s perhaps no surprise that the high-yield bond market is placid. The extent of the divergence between debt levels and defaults, however, is worrying to some analysts who feel rising corporate indebtedness will eventually catch out unwary investors and deflate the junk-bond market.

But beyond complacency John Lonski, chief economist at Moody’s Capital Market Research, argued that globalization and the tendency of U.S. businesses to hoard cash as reasons why corporate debt levels may no longer move in sync with default rates and credit spreads.

So has the correlation between corporate debt and defaults been broken for good or just for now? “Just for now” remains the most likely answer, since the business cycle is embedded in human nature rather than some kind of external constraint that we can evade with clever tricks. In fact, it’s clever tricks – like the fiat currency printing press — that fool us into thinking we control events that used to control us.

And is it worth speculating about what might happen to restore those historical relationships – that is, cause a crisis that spikes junk bond defaults and causes corporate debt to start shrinking? Probably not, since there are so many candidates right now. Something will happen and the lines on the above chart will converge in the upper right corner – and then the bottom right.

The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) fell $1.13 (-0.41%) in premarket trading Monday. Year-to-date, SPY has gained 2.75%.

SPY currently has an ETF Daily News SMART Grade of A (Strong Buy), and is ranked #1 of 142 ETFs in the Large Cap Blend ETFs category.

This article is brought to you courtesy of