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The Upgrade Episode 27: Speculative Grade Issuers Face Rising Pressure as Revenue Growth Slows


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Listen: The Upgrade Episode 27: Speculative Grade Issuers Face Rising Pressure as Revenue Growth Slows

In Episode 27, Minesh Patel, the U.S. sector lead of leveraged finance at S&P Global Ratings, and Hanna Zhang, the director of U.S. leveraged finance and recovery, discuss Hanna’s article titled: Disparities Emerge By Sector, Rating, Company Size, And Debt Cushion.

Key takeaways from the article include:

      • Earnings pressures were evident in the quarter as the momentum in revenue growth decelerated. However, the lower-rated 'B' category exhibited solid year-over-year EBITDA growth. To some extent, these entities even outperformed higher-rated 'BB' peers, particularly those operating in subsectors most susceptible to interest rates (homebuilders and real estate), navigating secular headwinds (TV and radio), or facing challenging comparisons (energy and commodity, retail discretionary). 
      • As the impact of cumulative monetary tightening takes hold, smaller and lower-rated companies face the highest ratings pressure. We found that borrowers with the smallest scale show much worse interest coverage, exacerbated by persistent free operating cash flow deficits. Their particularly weak credit measures differentiate them from larger counterparts.
      • About 21% of 'B-' rated borrowers had EBITDA interest coverage of less than 1x in the 12 months ended on March 31, 2023.
      • First-lien loans with a 30% or more debt cushion hold a significant advantage over those with a negligible or nonexistent cushion (i.e., a first-lien-only debt structure). We calculated an average gap of about 30% in our first-lien lender recovery estimate between the two. However, having a priority claim ahead of the first lien will result in an average reduction of another 2.5%.

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