THE LEX COLUMN: Investment-grade rating or bust
Large companies will do just about anything to keep their status
No-one receives the benefit of the doubt more plentifully than mega-cap companies with BBB credit ratings. This happens despite hammer blows to groups such as AB InBev, AT&T, General Electric, Kraft Heinz and Verizon. Shareholders have jumped ship and creditors have fretted in the face of technological disruption and merger-and-acquisition disasters. Ratings agencies have kept the companies in investment-grade territory even when their raw numbers merit downgrades. The lessons? First, never underestimate institutional inertia. Second, big established companies have more resources and market power to weather a downturn. Bosses and bond investors should be grateful. A downgrade of a few notches to junk status would be devastating for them. Not only would borrowing costs explode, but many investment funds would be stampeded into massive debt sales. They are prohibited from holding junk-rated paper. Savvy companies are exploiting the grace period granted to them to clean up their act. S...