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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

9 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

10 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 10 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."