Nearly $1 trillion of debt at risk of downgrade to junk in 2012: S&P

SP debt

The amount of sovereign and corporate credit on the cusp of being downgraded to junk status more than quadrupled in 2012, due primarily to an erosion in the credit quality of the world's banking sector, Standard & Poor's data showed on Wednesday.

At the end of last year, S&P rated $984.8 billion worth of debt, from 52 separate issuers, one step away from speculative grade, also referred to as junk. At the end of 2011, the number of credits that were one downgrade away from junk status was 38, representing $227.4 billion.

"Most of the downward pressure that affected potential 'fallen angels' was because of the European credit crisis," Diane Vazza, credit analyst at S&P, told Reuters, referring to issuers whose ratings are close to being cut to junk.

Twenty-five issuers, or nearly half of the potential junk credits, were in the banking sector and of that group, eight were banks located in India.

S&P describes this group as issuers who are rated BBB-minus with either negative outlooks or ratings on its so-called CreditWatch with negative implications. The latter classification signifies that a decision on whether or not to downgrade is more imminent.

The United States and Europe had the most entities in danger, each with 15 issuers. The Asia-Pacific region was next with eleven issuers.

The consumer products sector had six potential fallen angels, four of which were based in the United States, S&P's report said.

However, the actual number of fallen angels last year was 43. These credits represented $302.4 billion in par value. That was a slight improvement over 2011's 45 credits, worth $363.4 billion, that were cut to junk.

On the flip side, the number of credits on the cusp of being lifted into investment grade status, referred to as potential rising stars, grew to 25 in 2012 from 22 in 2011.

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