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Revolving Confidence

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To hear the heads of Wall Street’s largest financial institutions speak, the worst of times are behind us. But a new wave of pressure seems mounting as corporate borrowers get squeezed by tightening credit and a slowing economy. High yield bond defaults are up and going higher as companies find lenders unwilling to refinance risky loans (non-investment grade lending is down 70% this year). And now companies have begun drawing down on their revolving lines of credit, sucking even more capital away from Wall Street, the New York Times is reporting.
Those of you not involved in corporate finance might not appreciate how much banks hate when borrowers draw down on revolving lines of credit. Typically a corporate borrower will have a revolver built into its larger credit facility. But unlike bond issuances and syndicated term loans, banks cannot easily hand the credit risk and capital requirements onto other investors. In short, when borrowers draw down revolvers that money comes out of Wall Street’s coffers.
Banks are already under tremendous balance sheet pressure following the $300 billion write-downs and credit losses over the past year, and the threat of corporations drawing down their revolvers could exacerbate the situation. The New York Times, in a somewhat panicky tone, notes that in a worst case scenario of massive revolver draws, banks could be forced to sell assets or raise money to cover the loans.
The banks are downplaying the risk, of course. “Even in the most volatile markets, including last summer, we have seen very few companies draw down their revolvers,” Chad Leat, chairman of the alternative asset group at Citigroup, tells the Times. “Occasions when it did happen have been unique.”
We find this completely reassuring. Banks, especially Citigroup, have proven so effective at anticipating crises in the past year that we wouldn’t even dream of doubting Chad.
Banks Fear Increased Demand for Corporate Emergency Loans [New York Times]