Zero LBO-backed Companies Defaulted In December

Sponsor-backed companies made up nearly 25 percent of all companies that defaulted around the world last year, but the pace of defaults has fallen rapidly in the last few months.

A record-breaking total of 265 companies defaulted last year on a global basis, according to Standard & Poor’s. Sixty-three of those defaulters (23.8 percent of 2009’s total) were backed by U.S.-based buyout shops at the time of their transgressions, according to further analysis by Buyouts.

However, as 2009 came to its close, instances of LBO-backed defaults ratcheted back significantly. After a count of four U.S. sponsor-backed defaults in October, November produced only two, while December—despite a total of nine defaults worldwide—became the only month in 2009 not to see a portfolio company fail on its debt obligations, according to Buyouts.

Adding to the good news, the 12-month-trailing U.S. speculative-grade default rate fell to an estimated 10.9 percent in December, its first monthly decline since October 2007 when the default rate hit a 25-year low of 0.99 percent, according to S&P.

“We expect the speculative-grade default rate to continue declining to a mean forecast of 6.9 percent by September 2010, but it could also decline to only 9.9 percent if economic conditions are worse than expected,” S&P said in a Jan. 4 report.

A lower default rate could only mean good things for an LBO community whose highly leveraged portfolio companies were hit hard by the credit crunch and subsequent global downturn. In the immediate-term, a lower default rate translates into a lower likelihood of sponsor-backed blow-ups, while longer-term it means lenders could become more comfortable backing new deals.

Thus far in 2010, only one company backed by a U.S. sponsor has defaulted, according to Buyouts. United Site Services Inc., a provider of portable toilet rentals to the construction, government and special events markets, was slapped with an ‘SD’ (selective default) rating after it exchanged more than $400 million of its term loan and mezzanine debt for equity. S&P viewed the move as a distressed exchange, which is tantamount to a default in the eyes of the ratings agency. The Boston-based company is backed by Angelo, Gordon & Co., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and GSO Capital Partners.