Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Fed might not be raising rates, but it is again warning about Corporate America's reliance on leveraged loans.

Why it matters: An economic slowdown could create a sharp spike in defaults, affecting not just individual companies but also mutual funds that hold bank debt or leveraged loans themselves.

Per the central bank's latest Financial Stability Report:

  • Leveraged loans now stand at $1.15 trillion.
  • That's represents a 20.1% increase during 2018, compared to an average growth rate of 15.8% between 1997 and 2018.
  • The current total is larger than prior peaks in 2007 and 2014.

The big picture: It's not just the aggregate numbers that worry central bankers. It's also the continued weakening of leveraged lending standards and covenants. For example, the share of large loans with debt-to-EBITDA ratios above 6x is now higher than during prior peaks in 2007 and 2014. Moreover, a Moody's index tracking the strength of leveraged loan covenants is at its lowest level since the index launched in 2012 — including a substantial rise in cov-lite loans.

  • The Fed acknowledges that leveraged loan credit performance has remained "solid" with low default rates,"in part reflecting the relatively strong economy." It also believes today's leveraged loan bundles are better structured than pre-crisis residential mortgage bundles.

The bottom line: That's a major contrast from 2008, in that the Fed in 2019 suggests these loans could create a severe bubble deflation rather than an all-out pop. But perhaps the biggest difference is that the Fed and others are actually sounding preemptive alarms. If things get messy this time, no one will be able to pretend they weren't warned.

Go deeper: The debt market is littered with risky loans

Go deeper

Judge orders Eric Trump to testify in New York probe before election

Photo: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

A judge on Wednesday ordered Eric Trump to comply with a subpoena to testify in a New York probe into his family business before the presidential election.

The state of play: New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) last month said her office had filed a lawsuit to compel the Trump Organization to comply with subpoenas related to an investigation into whether President Trump and his company improperly inflated the value of its assets on financial statements.

52 mins ago - Podcasts

Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus on the rise of Silicon Valley SPACs

Silicon Valley venture capitalists are no longer content with investing in startups and then eventually handing them off. Instead, many are now forming SPACs, or blank-check acquisition companies, to ride tech unicorns into the public markets themselves.

Axios Re:Cap digs into this trend with the co-founders of a new tech SPAC called Reinvent Technology Partners: Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and partner at Greylock, and Mark Pincus, the founder and former CEO of Zynga.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m. ET: 31,717,955 — Total deaths: 973,014 Total recoveries: 21,795,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m. ET: 6,913,046 — Total deaths: 201,319 — Total recoveries: 2,646,959 — Total tests: 96,612,436Map.
  3. Health: CDC director says over 90% of Americans have not yet been exposed to coronavirus — Supply shortages continue to plague testing.
  4. Politics: Fauci clashes with Rand Paul at COVID hearing: "You're not listening" — FDA chief vows agency will not accept political pressure on coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson begins large phase 3 trial — The FDA plans to toughen standards.
  6. Sports: Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball.

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