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S&P estimates high-yield-bond default rates will hit 13.9%this year, but could go as high as 18.5% if the downturn is worse than expected (which it will be). Moody's predicts a default rate around 16.4% this year. The default rates in recent downturns were 11.9% in 1991 and 10.4% in 2002, according to S&P. Such rates peaked at around 15% in 1930. In 2007, when credit flowed freely, the default rate remarkably dipped below 1%, an all-time low. Fitch Ratings estimates the biggest prior year for high-yield bond defaults, in dollar terms, was 2002, when $109.8 billion defaulted. In 2008, high-yield bond defaults topped $66.6 billion, up from $9 billion for 2006 and 2007 combined. Both rating agencies expect defaults to peak in the second half of the year, based on forecasts that the economy itself will bottom out in the first two quarters of the year.
As the chart below indicates, the HY10 price also demonstrates that based on JPM's mathematical models, by March of 2019, 90.5% of all current high yield companies will be bankrupt. So whoever is buying a basket of high yield bonds with 10 year maturities, may want to change recovery model assumptions so that only 10% of the companies in that basket will pay off their debt at maturity.
Now reader CreditTrader makes a terrific point. The chart above assumes 40% recovery rates which is the default assumption, yet wrong, as recent CDS auctions have shown: a much more realistic recovery assumption in a bankruptcy these days is 10-15%. If we rerun the numbers assuming 20% recovery rates (or half the default rate), the HY10 market price implies credit is mispricing default risk significantly! In other words to get to an 18.4% default rate at EOY 2009 using 20% recoveries, the HY10 price has to be 62, or about 14 points lower than today's price, meaning HY credit is very very rich, and all those who are buying bonds in the primary market will get burned very soon. As more defaults result in minuscule recoveries, it is inevitable that JPM will tweak their recovery default rate much lower and this will result in a huge drop in the index trading price.