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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic data is pointing downward and investor sentiment is turning negative.

Driving the news: Perhaps most worrisome is the massive pile of highly leveraged debt that continues to grow. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch's monthly survey of fund managers finds that, for the first time since 2009, corporate leverage is the top concern among investors surveyed.

  • 52% of investors said they expect global profits to deteriorate — the most since 2008.
  • 60% surveyed say global growth will weaken in the next 12 months, levels not seen since the financial crisis.
  • U.S. manufacturing activity dropped in December by the most since October 2008.
  • 2018's Treasury auctions saw the weakest demand since 2008, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.
  • The yield spread between 2- and 10-year U.S. Treasury notes is the thinnest since 2007, and the yield on 2- and 3-year notes has already risen above that of 5-year notes, meaning a curve inversion.

UBS estimated in September that there was a "record $4.3 trillion in lower-quality corporate loans and high-yield bonds — up from $2.4 trillion in 2010 — that could ... see rising defaults if the healthy U.S. economy starts to wobble," USA Today reports.

  • “I view this as the most severe threat to the economy and financial system,” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, told USA Today in response to the UBS figures.
  • Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen warned in a recent interview, “I am worried about the systemic risks associated with these loans. There has been a huge deterioration in standards; covenants have been loosened in leveraged lending.”

Still, there seems to be a consensus among many in the market that it's not yet time to panic.

  • “Investors remain bearish, with growth and profit expectations plummeting this month,” said Michael Hartnett, BAML's chief investment strategist. “Even so, their diagnosis is secular stagnation, not a recession, as fund managers are pricing in a dovish Fed and steeper yield curve.”

Go deeper: Why you should stop worrying about a recession

Go deeper

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Axios AM Deep Dive: America’s murder surge

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Homicides rose at the fastest rate in at least six decades last year. This Axios AM Deep Dive, led by Future correspondent Bryan Walsh, looks at the state of gun crime.