London — Banks, including Barclays and Goldman Sachs, have almost $9bn worth of high-risk loans and bonds weighing on their balance sheets and face a nervous wait for the credit markets to re-open before they can sell the debt.

Financing has yet to be launched for various deals, including TDR Capital’s purchase of UK pub company Ei Group, slated to bring in £1.35bn to the high-yield bond market, and a €725m loan to back private equity firm Lone Star Funds’ acquisition of BASF’s construction chemicals unit.

Deutsche Bank, UBS and Credit Suisse are among some of the other banks on the hook. If borrowing rates rise in the event of a prolonged slowdown, they may eat into bankers’ fees.

“Unless the Covid-19 outbreak can be brought back under control soon, we expect credit markets to continue to price in rising global recession risk,” strategists led by Daniel Lamy at JPMorgan Chase wrote in a note to clients late last week.

Banks had previously committed to underwrite around €6bn in high-yield bonds and €2bn of leveraged loans before the wider impacts of the coronavirus gripped the market. But as uncertainty increases and borrowing costs rise, many of these deals could be postponed.

Barclays currently has the highest count of underwritten positions with five, followed by Goldman Sachs with four. Barclays and Goldman Sachs didn’t respond to a request for comment. Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and UBS declined to comment.

Away from mergers and acquisition (M&A) deals, companies’ ability to take advantage of the favourable refinancing conditions seen at the start of the year has dwindled. Jaguar Land Rover and Fugro postponed their planned bond issues in recent weeks, as investors demanded higher yields for the uncertain economic backdrop.

“The big rush has finished,” Allen & Overy partner Jonathan Brownson, who advises lenders on financings, said. “The feedback we are getting is that this may no longer be the best market to do opportunistic transactions.”

Other M&A deals that had been expected to launch soon include a $400m-equivalent term loan supporting French private equity firm Ardian’s acquisition of music-mixing console maker Audiotonix; a €450m high-yield bond for Permira’s acquisition of Golden Goose; and a €445m bond for PureGym’s purchase of Fitness World.

Further out, the jumbo €17.2bn buyout of Thyssenkrupp’s elevators unit looms over the pipeline. So far half a dozen banks are lined up as arrangers. There’s also another €3.2bn worth of M&A loan financing currently in syndication.

Grim outlook

Despite tentative signs of life in Europe’s funding market on Tuesday morning, the US Federal Reserve’s emergency rate cut has done little so far to halt the rising risk-off sentiment. The outlook for leveraged loans and junk bonds remains grim.

High-yield funds saw outflows of $355m last week, while Europe’s junk-bond, exchange-traded funds scrambled for the exit last week, yanking close to a billion dollars from the index-tracking vehicles.

At the same time, yields on Europe’s high-risk bonds have risen to 3.9% after falling to record lows of 3.05% last month.

The S&P European leveraged loan index suffered its worst month since June 2016 with a loss of 0.91%. In the final week of February the average price fell to its lowest point since mid-January 2019 after the steepest weekly drop in four years.

European high-yield hasn’t moved as much as the US market, according to UBS Investment Bank chief strategist Bhanu Baweja. “European high-yield is the one that’s more vulnerable near term. If things get worse in Europe, I think that high-yield spread could go to 450-500” basis points.


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