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Data: Datastream, Worldscope, DB Global Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of so-called zombie companies is spiking and could soon represent more than one in five U.S. firms, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

What it means: "Zombies" are firms whose debt servicing costs are higher than their profits but are kept alive by relentless borrowing.

What they're saying: "This is a macroeconomic problem because zombie firms are less productive, and their existence lowers investment in and employment at more productive firms," Deutsche Bank Securities chief economist Torsten Sløk said in a note to clients Thursday.

  • "In short, one side effect of central banks keeping rates low for a long time is that it keeps more unproductive firms alive, which ultimately lowers the long-run growth rate of the economy."

What's next: "This trend ... is likely to continue going forward given the Fed’s commitment to keeping rates low and the ongoing support from the Fed to credit markets."

Go deeper: Corporate debt issuance has already topped $1 trillion in 2020

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2020 - World

Study: China's economic policies directly harmed U.S. industries

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

China's economic planning and targeted subsidies have increased the competitiveness of Chinese firms in the global economy to the direct detriment of U.S. industry, an academic study has found.

Why it matters: When it comes to American industries and workers, the rise of Chinese industrial policy hasn’t been a win-win — researchers found for every 100 factories opened in China, 12.5 U.S. factories in the same industry closed.

23 mins ago - World

Iran's nuclear dilemma: Ramp up now or wait for Biden

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The world is waiting to see whether Iran will strike back at Israel or the U.S. over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran's military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Senior Iranian officials have stressed that Iran will take revenge against the perpetrators, but also respond by continuing Fakhrizadeh’s legacy — the nuclear program. The key question is whether Iran will accelerate that work now, or wait to see what President-elect Biden puts on the table.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

U.K. first nation to clear Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

A health care worker during the phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Pfizer and BioNTech in Ankara, Turkey, in October. Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it's approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine, which "will be made available across the U.K. from next week."

Why it matters: The U.K. has beaten the U.S. to become the first Western country to give emergency approval for a vaccine that's found to be 95% effective with no serious side effects against a virus that's killed nearly 1.5 million people globally.