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How Does Zombie Credit Affect Inflation? Lessons from Europe
Even after the unprecedented stimulus by central banks in Europe following the global financial crisis, Europe’s economic growth and inflation have remained depressed, consistently undershooting projections. In a striking resemblance to Japan’s “lost decades,” the European economy has been recently characterized by persistently low interest rates and the provision of cheap bank credit to impaired firms, or “zombie credit.” In this post, based on a recent staff report, we propose a “zombie credit channel” that links the rise of zombie credit to dis-inflationary pressures.
The Making of Fallen Angels—and What QE and Credit Rating Agencies Have to Do with It
Riskier firms typically borrow at higher rates than safer firms because investors require compensation for taking on more risk. However, since 2009 this relationship has been turned on its head in the massive BBB corporate bond market, with risky BBB-rated firms borrowing at lower rates than their safer BBB-rated peers. The resulting risk materialized in an unprecedented wave of “fallen angels” (or firms downgraded below the BBB investment-grade threshold) at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, based on a related Staff Report, we claim that this anomaly has been driven by a ...
Zombie Credit and (Dis-)Inflation: Evidence from Europe
We show that “zombie credit”—cheap credit to impaired firms—has a disinflationary effect. By helping distressed firms to stay afloat, such credit creates excess production capacity, thereby putting downward pressure on product prices. Granular European data on inflation, firms, and banks confirm this mechanism. Industry-country pairs affected by a rise of zombie credit show lower firm entry and exit rates, markups, and product prices, as well as a misallocation of capital and labor, which results in lower productivity, investment, and value added. Without a rise in zombie credit, ...
Exorbitant Privilege? Quantitative Easing and the Bond Market Subsidy of Prospective Fallen Angels
We document capital misallocation in the U.S. investment-grade (IG) corporate bond market, driven by quantitative easing (QE). Prospective fallen angels—risky firms just above the IG rating cutoff—enjoyed subsidized bond financing since 2009, especially when the scale of QE purchases peaked and from IGfocused investors that held more securities purchased in QE programs. The benefitting firms used this privilege to fund risky acquisitions and increase market share, exploiting the sluggish adjustment of credit ratings in downgrading after M&A and adversely affecting competitors' employment ...