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US Officials Meet in Secret About Corporate Debt

Jul 09, 2019 | Bradley Keoun |

US Officials Meet in Secret About Corporate Debt

Written by Bradley Keoun via The Street

The Financial Stability Oversight Council, a panel of top U.S. regulators charged with preventing future financial crises, met Thursday to discuss the past decade’s surge in corporate borrowing, much of it by companies with junk-grade credit rating. An economic downturn likely would bring a wave of credit-rating downgrades and debt defaults that could ripple across markets.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday led a secret meeting of top U.S. financial regulators on the risks to global markets from the recent surge in corporate borrowing — a growing concern as fears mount that the economy might be headed for a slowdown or a recession.The

Financial Stability Oversight Council, formed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to prevent a repeat, met “in executive session,” or behind closed doors, according to a statement released by the Treasury Department’s public-affairs unit following the meeting.

Members of the group include Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell as well as the heads of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

No details were provided on the gist of the discussion, though according to the statement the panel heard an “update” from Craig Phillips, a counselor to Mnuchin, on recent market developments involving “corporate credit and leveraged lending.”

Leveraged lending is the financial industry’s term for the practice of making loans to companies with poor credit ratings, colloquially known as junk. Historically, the market was dominated by banks, but in recent years investment firms and other non-bank lenders joined in; the outstanding amount of the loans has mushroomed over the past decade to about $1.2 trillion, eclipsing the more-established junk-bond market.

There’s also been a surge in borrowing by companies with triple-B ratings, which rank just above junk but could face dire downgrades if an economic slowdown shrinks profits for those borrowers. That category of debt has climbed to an unprecedented level of more than $3 trillion, according to Standard & Poor’s, sparking warnings from officials including Robert Kaplan, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

The concern is that if the economy falters, loan losses would climb dramatically and other companies would be more likely to default on their outstanding bonds.

Read the full article at The Street: U.S. Officials Meet in Secret Over Junk-Loan Frenzy as Recession Alarms Flash | The Street