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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Both Moody's and S&P Global downgraded PG&E from investment grade to junk this week, meaning the California utility is likely in for some major upheaval.

Why it matters: PG&E's problems are unique, but the company's recent trouble highlights a growing risk in the credit market for companies that technically have investment grade debt, but are teetering on the brink of junk status. A weakening economic and credit cycle could spark a slew of downgrades, with half of investment-grade debt in the lowest-rated rank.

The number of companies with debt just one level above junk has swelled 247% since the end of 2007, faster than the 190% increase for the overall credit market. But so far, only 7% of these companies has been downgraded, according to Fitch Ratings.

  • A downgrade would make it pricier for companies to tap into capital markets, which some rely on for growth and others just to keep things running. A downgrade to junk can also force fund managers who only hold investment grade debt to sell, and high-yield managers might not be interested until the price falls further.

The bottom line: Corporations have ratcheted up their debt load to the tune of $9 trillion since the financial crisis, thanks to easy money and a long period of low interest rates. S&P Global analysts noted recently that the booming credit cycle is "in its later stages."

Go deeper

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.

U.S. Chamber decides against political ban for Capitol insurrection

A pedestrian passes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters as it undergoes renovation. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce revealed Friday it won't withhold political donations from lawmakers who simply voted against certifying the presidential election results and instead decide on a case-by-case basis.

Why it matters: The Chamber is the marquee entity representing businesses and their interests in Washington. Its memo, obtained exclusively by Axios, could set the tone for businesses debating how to handle their candidate and PAC spending following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.