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US corporate bankruptcy filings post slowest Q1 in at least 13 years

Corporate bankruptcies hit their lowest first-quarter total in at least 13 years during the first three months of 2022, even as filings picked up in March from winter doldrums.

A total of 87 bankruptcy cases were filed from January through March, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data.

Speeding up

The 36 filings in March were an increase from the 21 bankruptcies filed in February. The uptick in March makes it the busiest month in 2022 so far for corporate bankruptcy filings.

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Industrials lead filings

The industrials sector continued to have the most bankruptcies so far in 2022 with 14 filings as of March 31.

Companies in the industrials sector that filed for bankruptcy in 2022 so far include those in aerospace and defense, trucking, and construction and engineering.

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The consumer discretionary sector had the second-highest number of bankruptcies as of March 31 with nine filings.

U.S. retail sales grew more tepidly than expected in February as shoppers confront prices rising faster than they have in 40 years. The pandemic drove demand for goods rather than services, which resulted in constrained supply chains and contributed to higher prices. A key question now is how and when demand shifts back to services as the pandemic in the U.S. continues to subside.

"I will be carefully monitoring the extent to which demand rotates back to services and away from durable goods, where it has remained consistently above pre-pandemic levels, and the extent to which the services sector is able to absorb higher demand," Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said during an April 5 speech at a Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis conference. Fed officials expect benchmark interest rates will climb quickly into next year as the central bank tries to curb soaring inflation.

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Stalling credit momentum

The low number of bankruptcies comes as credit conditions are deteriorating and bond issuance subsides in many markets, according to a March 30 report by S&P Global Ratings.

Many companies started 2022 with stronger balance sheets after taking advantage of two years of cheap funding to extend maturities, but risks remain around Russia's invasion of Ukraine and whether central bankers can control inflation, Ratings said in its report.

M&A deals that offer companies an alternative to bankruptcy are slowing after going gangbusters in 2021. The odds more companies will default are rising, even as the number of defaults remains low with seven so far in the U.S. this year, according to Ratings.

"The positive credit momentum of the past 14 months has stalled," Ratings said in the report. "Downgrades are now outpacing upgrades and widening credit spreads point to growing risk aversion."

Editor's note: This Data Dispatch is updated on a regular basis and the last edition was published March 9.

Bankruptcy figures include public companies or private companies with public debt with a minimum of $2 million in assets or liabilities at the time of filing, in addition to private companies with at least $10 million in assets or liabilities. Market Intelligence may remove companies from this list if it discovers that their total assets and liabilities do not meet the threshold requirement for inclusion.

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