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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The number of companies around the world that had their credit ratings downgraded from investment grade to speculative grade — so-called fallen angels — hit the lowest level in 23 years, S&P Global reported Thursday.

Context: There were only 19 fallen angels last year, which marked the fourth consecutive year the number has declined, the longest stretch on record.

But, but, but: While BBB-rated bonds grew to a record 50% of all outstanding investment grade U.S. corporate debt last year, downgrades fell to a record low 0.3%, data from BofA Global Research found.

  • The number of “zombie companies,” or businesses with interest payments higher than their annual earnings, has reached a level not seen since the global financial crisis, BofA estimated.
  • And the percentage of public companies in the U.S. losing money over 12 months has risen close to 40%, its highest level since the late 1990s outside of post-recession periods, WSJ reported.

Why it matters: Many companies appear to be holding their investment grade ratings by adding significantly to their debt load.

  • "Last week, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York also warned that downgrades to the flood of bonds sitting at the lower end of the investment-grade spectrum pose a financial stability concern," MarketWatch's Joy Wiltermuth writes.
  • "In October, the International Monetary Fund said that some $19 trillion of corporate debt globally could be at risk in a recession that is half as severe as the global financial crisis, in its annual global financial stability report."

On the other side: The global tally of companies with credit ratings upgraded to investment grade from speculative grade was 22 in 2019 — the lowest in 10 years.

Go deeper: S&P 500 companies expect declining earnings and profit margins for Q4

Go deeper

Biden taps Brian Deese to lead National Economic Council

Brian Deese (L) in 2015 with special envoy for climate change Todd Stern (C) and Secretary of State John Kerry (R). Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden announced Thursday that he has selected Brian Deese, a former Obama climate aide and head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, to serve as director of the National Economic Council.

Why it matters: The influential position does not require Senate confirmation, but Deese's time working for BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager and an investor in fossil fuels, has made him a target of criticism from progressives.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
34 mins ago - Economy & Business

The places regulation does not reach

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Financial regulation is not exactly simple anywhere in the world. But one country stands out for the sheer amount of complexity and confusion in its regulatory regime — the U.S.

Why it matters: Important companies fall through the cracks, largely unregulated, while others contend with a vast array of regulatory bodies, none of which are remotely predictable.

1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Boeing gets huge 737 Max order from Ryanair, boosting hope for quick rebound

Ryanair low cost airline Boeing 737-800 aircraft as seen over the runway. Photo by Nik Oiko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Dublin-based Ryanair said it would add 75 more planes to an existing order for Boeing's 737 Max airplanes, a giant vote of confidence as Boeing seeks to revive sales of its best-selling plane after a 20-month safety ban following two fatal crashes.

The big picture: Ryanair's big order, on the heels of breakthrough vaccine news, is also a promising sign that the devastated airline industry might recover from the global pandemic sooner than expected.