Global corporate net debt has fallen by 1.9% to $8.15 trillion in the past year as higher borrowing costs reduce appetite for new financing and strong cash flows from years of accommodative monetary conditions help companies repay existing debt, a study of 900 top firms released on Wednesday showed.
Indebtedness is expected to decline by $270 billion in the coming year as companies take a more conservative stance due to higher interest rates and an economic slowdown, according to the corporate debt index by investment firm Janus Henderson. It was based on the companies’ annual balance sheets as of June 1.
“Economic growth may slow or go into reverse, but companies are starting from a very profitable position,” said Seth Meyer, fixed income portfolio manager at Janus Henderson.
While the trend globally was to trim borrowings, U.S. companies’ net debt rose by 0.5% in the past year, the study found.
“A preference for using debt as a larger part of the finance mix means just one in six U.S. companies has net cash on its balance sheet, compared to almost one in three elsewhere in the world,” Janus Henderson said.
Policymakers around the world have injected trillions of dollars into the global economy to stem the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with national economies rebounding and inflation soaring, central bankers have started to reverse their stimulus measures, which has raised the risk of a sharp economic slowdown.
“Companies will weather the downturn and use cash flow to reduce borrowings further,” Meyer said.
Some borrowers in the corporate bond market have opted to redeem their debt instead of selling new paper at higher costs, bringing the face value of listed bonds down by $115 billion since May 2021, Janus Henderson said.
The decline in global corporate debt, the first since at least 2014/2015, was heavily influenced by the energy sector, as high prices led oil and gas firms to cut their borrowings by $155 billion on a constant-currency basis, the study found.