Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Barely five months into the year, U.S. investment-grade companies already have issued more than $1 trillion in debt — nearly as much as in all of 2019, which was well above average.

Why it matters: And buying shows no sign of letting up, thanks in large part to ultra-low interest rates and the Fed's promise of "no limit" purchases of Treasury, investment-grade corporate and even junk bonds.

What's happening: "Nearly $200 billion in debt has been issued in May so far as companies capitalize on growing risk-on attitudes," Bank of America research analysts said in a recent note to clients.

  • After $273 billion of outflows from bond funds in March, money has raced back into fixed income with positive inflows every week since mid-April, data from the Investment Company Institute show.

What to watch: Despite warnings of widespread downgrades, defaults and bankruptcies from various ratings agencies, credit analysts and the Fed itself, bond spreads are narrowing, indicating bullishness from investors as more of the U.S. economy opens for business.

  • "There's been a flood of issuance ... and the question is how much more can these spreads narrow," Subadra Rajappa, head of U.S. rates strategy at Société Générale, tells Axios. "My concern is that it seems like all this narrowing is a bit overdone."

Driving the news: Minutes from the Fed's latest policy meeting released Wednesday showed the central bank contemplating a program to cap the yields on short- and medium-term Treasuries known as yield-curve control — a policy employed by the Bank of Japan and Reserve Bank of Australia.

  • That would ensure borrowing costs stay low and likely encourage even more debt issuance from companies.

What could go wrong: Already warning that the economic damage from the pandemic will be deep and long-lasting, the Fed's latest financial stability report highlights the risk added by the growing corporate debt binge to exacerbate the coronavirus-driven recession.

Of note: Highly indebted "zombie" companies — firms that don't earn enough revenue to pay the interest on their debt — are one out of every six U.S. companies and currently control nearly 2.2 million jobs.

Flashback: "High levels of corporate debt likely won’t cause an economic downturn, but they may accelerate one as highly leveraged companies fail, forcing layoffs, decreasing aggregate demand and creating a downward spiral of bankruptcies and further layoffs," the U.S. Joint Economic Committee wrote in October 2019.

  • The committee cited Fed chair Jerome Powell himself, noting, “[a]highly leveraged business sector could amplify any economic downturn as companies are forced to lay off workers and cut back on investments.”

Go deeper: No, insurance doesn't cover that

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Aug 27, 2020 - Economy & Business

America has a new central bank

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Today is a truly historic day in Fed history — one that will have a transformative effect on U.S. monetary policy for the foreseeable future.

Driving the news: For decades, the main job of central banks has been to keep inflation down. The Fed has now effectively changed that policy, to instead prioritize maximum employment.

Amy Harder, author of Generate
5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Climate change goes mainstream in presidential debate

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

The most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact.

The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

Finally, a real debate

Photo: Morry Gash/AP

A more disciplined President Trump held back from the rowdy interruptions at tonight's debate in Nashville, while making some assertions so outlandish that Joe Biden chuckled and even closed his eyes. A Trump campaign adviser told Axios: "He finally listened." 

The result: A real debate.