Recent bankruptcy trends for publicly traded companies are markedly worse than for smaller companies, according to an FDIC report issued today. Today's Bank Trends report, entitled "Large and Small Companies Exhibit Diverging Bankruptcy Trends," concludes that credit quality will remain a key issue for the banking industry this year. For most FDIC-insured institutions, the outlook for 2002 depends on the extent to which weakness in the corporate sector trickles down to smaller businesses and consumers.
A total of 257 publicly traded companies filed for bankruptcy last year, representing a new record and a 46 percent increase over the prior year's record of 176 filings (see Chart 1).1 Bankruptcies among publicly traded companies began to run counter to the trend of declining business bankruptcies around 1997.
Analysts at BankruptcyData.com indicate that the number of bankruptcy filings by publicly traded companies was distributed fairly evenly across industry sectors in 2001. The telecom industry was disproportionately represented, however, accounting for 36 of the 257 filings, or 14 percent. The assets entering bankruptcy by industry tended to be more concentrated, with 33 percent of public company assets entering bankruptcy in 2001 related to the energy sector.
A number of factors could be driving this divergence in bankruptcy rates. First, profits at larger firms have declined more dramatically than overall corporate profits. Second, larger firms seem more likely to have been disproportionately affected by weakness in foreign markets and imports made cheaper by a strong dollar. Finally, a dramatic increase in leverage at larger firms compared to smaller firms, encouraged by easy access to capital, has also played an important role.
Stress in the corporate sector has been reflected in other measures of corporate credit quality. Standard & Poor's reports that 211 bond issuers defaulted on $115.4 billion in debt in 2001, posting the highest default volume on record, both in terms of the dollar volume and number of defaults.2 There were 3.6 times as many downgrades as upgrades in 2001among speculative-grade issuers rated by Moody's Investors Service, while downgrades outnumbered upgrades by 2.3 to 1 among investment-grade issuers.3 Bank Call Report data also reflect the fact that financial trouble has appeared more quickly in credits to larger firms. Since the second quarter of 2000, large commercial banks have experienced higher and more rapidly rising loss rates on commercial and industrial (C&I) loans than small commercial banks (see Chart 2).
For the full Bank Trends report, entitled "Large and Small Companies Exhibit Diverging Bankruptcy Trends," go to:
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