The Economist has two new articles on how the current troubles in the credit markets may impact the broader economy. The first is on the topic of "Business and the Credit Crunch." After discussing how several private equity buyout deals have unraveled, it offers an interesting observation:

What happens to private equity may be a leading indicator of how the crisis in the financial system will affect the rest of the business world, both because private-equity deals are so dependent on large amounts of debt, and because many of the shrewdest judges of corporate value work for private-equity funds. The number of new private-equity deals has plunged with the financial crisis, and nobody expects activity to pick up again soon. The collapse of deals suggests that the business climate has changed sharply.

While the article stops short of forecasting a recession in the United States, it notes that $160 billion of leveraged loans will come due in 2008 and "refinancing them may be a struggle in today’s financial markets." As one analyst commented, a severe recession — if it were to happen — could push the default rate on corporate bonds as high as 20%.

A second article focuses on the capital needs of commercial and investment banks as a result of recent and predicted write-downs. The open question is what impact these reductions in capital will have on future lending, in particular if banks seek to maintain capital ratios in the 10% range often seen. One prediction: write-downs through next year could reduce lending by as much as $2 trillion.

What does all this mean for business bankruptcy? A lot will depend on how long the credit crunch lasts and how widespread its impact extends.

  • It’s been almost five months since early signs first emerged of a turn in the buyout debt market that presaged the credit crunch and few are ready to predict when it will end.
  • Many insolvency professionals believe a significant increase in Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings is coming, even without a recession.
  • If the economy falls into an actual recession, the number of defaults on corporate bond issuances and other debt would rise dramatically.

With most economists still predicting that the U.S. economy will slow but not dip into recession, the most interesting question may be what would the default picture look like in such a low growth economy. These Economist articles suggest it may not be a pretty sight.