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The New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

The ratio of U.S. companies that S&P Global has downgraded to the number it has upgraded this quarter is the highest on an annualized basis since 2016, the ratings agency reported this week.

The big picture: "While 2018 generally showed benign rating activity, 2019 has already seen pronounced downgrades, especially at speculative-grade rating categories, while downgrades among higher-rated issuers remain muted," said Diane Vazza, head of S&P Global Fixed Income Research, in a press release.

By the numbers: Globally, S&P downgraded 173 corporate issuers and upgraded 67 in the first quarter, noting the high downgrade ratio in the U.S. and emerging markets.

  • S&P's net downgrade rate (number of total downgrades minus upgrades) is at the worst level on an annualized basis since 2016, the agency said in a release.
  • "Many of the global risks seen in 2018 are likely to continue in 2019, including slowing global economic growth, fading fiscal stimulus, moderately elevated interest rates, and persistent equity volatility," Vazza said.

What to watch: S&P also noted that companies in the consumer sector are particularly vulnerable to downgrades, with weak ratings and "high negative bias, which are poised to continue deteriorating this year."

Go deeper: Investors aren't punishing companies for bad guidance

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
6 mins ago - Economy & Business

Biden's inflation danger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

CES was largely irrelevant this year

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

The FBI is tracing a digital trail to Capitol rioters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Capitol rioters, eager to share proof of their efforts with other extremists online, have so far left a digital footprint of at least 140,000 images that is making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to capture and arrest them.

The big picture: Law enforcement's use of digital tracing isn't new, and has long been at the center of fierce battles over privacy and civil liberties. The Capitol siege is opening a fresh front in that debate.