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The persistence of zombie firms in a low yield world

March 1, 2018
In the fourth part of our series on the impact of rising yields, we discuss the rising incidence of zombie firms in recent years. Bottom-up data of some 3,000 companies in the FTSE All World index show that the percentage of zombie firms has more than tripled to 2.0% of firms in 2016 from 0.6% in 1996. Such firms are defined as those with an interest coverage ratio under 1x for 2 consecutive years and a price to sales ratio under 3x. That matters because zombie firms are linked to fading business dynamism and because years of low interest rates should have led to fewer such firms, not more. There are early signs we are at a turning point, however. The numbers for 2017, with two-thirds of firms reporting, suggest that zombie firm incidence declined sharply last year. If this proves to be a real trend, it may give central banks confidence that continuing to raise rates and pull away from unconventional monetary policy will have some advantages. [more]

35 Documents
September 19, 2018
It may not feel like it, but we live in inflationary times relative to long-term history. Before the start of the twentieth century, prices crept higher only very slowly over time and were often flat for long periods. In the UK prices were broadly unchanged between 1800 and 1938. However, inflation moved higher everywhere across the globe at numerous points in the twentieth century. UK prices since 1938 are up by a multiple of 50 (+4885%). [more]
September 13, 2018
The 15th September will mark ten years since Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a cataclysmic event which reverberated throughout financial markets and led to the “Global Financial Crisis“. This laid the foundations for an extraordinary period for central bank activity and therefore financial markets. It’s still not clear if lessons from the GFC have been learned. In our 2017 Long Term Study “The Next Financial Crisis” we argued that the global financial system post Bretton Woods remains vulnerable to financial crises, and their frequency has been higher in this period than across all prior financial history. The GFC was clearly an extreme case and likely a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, in solving this crisis we have added more debt to an already heavily indebted system and our central banks have imposed a decade of extraordinary measures, from which most still struggle to withdraw. [more]
September 13, 2018
EM stress is still largely idiosyncratic, but the risk of a broader fallout is increasing. We have argued that external factors account for two-thirds to three-fourths of EM’s performance – especially for credit markets. The worsening of these external conditions is exposing the weakest links across EM and taking a disproportionate toll on several important economies. So far they are bearing the brunt of EM’s stress. [more]
September 5, 2018
It remains a macro world for credit, with no real concerns of a fundamental nature within the corporate bond universe. The problem is that the macro world has become increasingly complicated this year. At the start of 2018, when markets were extraordinarily becalmed, we did feel that 2018 would see the return of volatility and that credit spreads would widen in sympathy. The reality is that 2018 has certainly deviated from our roadmap even if spreads have migrated to roughly where we thought they would be at this stage of the year. [more]
June 11, 2018
China ran a $376bn trade surplus against the US in 2017. US goods exports to China are worth only a quarter of US imports from China. However, these numbers do not capture the true size of US business interest in China. They are at odds with the fact, for example, that Chinese consumers own more active iPhones and buy more General Motor cars than US consumers do. These cars and phones are sold to China not through US exports, but through Chinese subsidiaries of US multinational enterprises. [more]
June 4, 2018
Asian economies have, collectively, grown at a remarkably stable rate over the past five years. Twenty-six consecutive quarters of GDP growth between 6% and 7% despite an occasionally challenging external environment – including the euro crisis, a volatile Japanese economy and large variations in energy prices – was a much better outcome than we, and we dare say most other observers, had expected. [more]
May 31, 2018
Once more, Europe is becoming messy. We did not expect politics to turn so negative this year. The Italians face a difficult task of restoring investor confidence, and Italy is too important to ignore. But European volatility does not translate into US positivity; we believe the underlying dollar outlook remains negative, and the US midterms will add to political noise. Beyond the dollar, volatility breeds opportunity, and we identify numerous trades in currency crosses that should not be sensitive to messy American or European politics. [more]
May 30, 2018
In our 7th annual DB survey of global prices and living standards, we rank 50 cities that are relevant to global financial markets. We consider Quality of Life, Salaries, Rents and Disposable After-Rent Income, and our Weekend Getaway, Cheap Date and Bad Habits indices. We then look at the individual series of the prices of goods and services. Our survey highlights relative prices around the globe and how they have changed over time. [more]
May 23, 2018
QE has been a controversial policy wherever it has been implemented, including in the euro zone. With the economy having expanded at the fastest rate in a decade in 2017, the ECB has already begun to scale back its asset purchases from EUR80bn per month at the peak to EUR30bn currently. The ECB is due to make its next decision on QE this summer. Our baseline expectation is that the ECB will announce in July the intention to finish QE at the end of this year. That will be a signal to markets and the economy that it is just a matter of time before the ECB’s other controversial monetary policy – negative deposit rates – is also withdrawn. [more]