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Riskier Outlook May Slow Corporate Debt Growth in 2019 - Moody’s

March 18, 2019, 08:00 AM
Filed Under: Industry News

Total outstandings of private and public nonfinancial-sector debt grew by 5.1% year-to-year as of the final quarter of 2018, reaching a record high of $51.796 trillion, according to a briefing by Moody's Analytics referencing the latest version of the Federal Reserve’s “Financial Accounts of the United States."

The year growth rate of the broadest estimate of U.S. nonfinancial-sector debt has slowed from second-quarter 2018’s current cycle high of 5.6%. Since the end of the Great Recession, the 3.9% average annualized rise by nonfinancial-sector debt has slightly outpaced nominal GDP’s accompanying 3.7% average annual increase.By contrast, during 2002-2007’s upturn, the 8.1% average annualized advance by nonfinancial-sector debt was much faster than nominal GDP’s comparably measured growth rate of 5.3%. As a result, the moving yearlong ratio of total nonfinancial-sector debt to GDP climbed from the 197% of 2001’s final quarter to the 225% of 2007’s final quarter. Because of the current recovery’s much slower growth of debt vis-a-vis GDP, debt barely rose from second-quarter 2009’s 243% to fourth-quarter 2018’s 249% of GDP.Today’s near record high ratio of nonfinancial-sector debt to GDP limits the upside for benchmark interest rates.

Just as highly leveraged businesses exhibit a more pronounced sensitivity to higher benchmark interest rates, highly leveraged economies are likely to slow more quickly in response to an increase by benchmark rates. Relatively low interest rates do much to lessen the burden implicit to a comparatively high ratio of debt to GDP.Nevertheless, a powerful enough external shock could force U.S. benchmark interest rates up to levels that shrink business activity considerably. Under this scenario the Fed would be compelled to hike rates in defense of the dollar exchange rate despite how a deterioration of domestic business conditions requires lower rates.

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