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Business lending in recessions

Commercial business lending, especially to small businesses, took a long time to recover after the 2008 financial crisis. The graph above shows annual commercial and industrial loan growth over the past three recessions, with each series indexed to 100 at the peak before the recession. The green line represents the most recent recession: Compared with the other series, recent C&I loan growth is much flatter in the 15th to 20th post-peak quarters.

Slow loan growth could be due to demand factors, supply factors, or a combination. One way to look at the supply side of business lending is the Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey. This quarterly survey from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors asks loan officers whether lending standards and loan officer perceptions of demand have changed over the past three months. FRED has the data, which are compiled into diffusion indexes. The graph below shows the net percent of loan officers tightening standards on C&I loans to small and large firms. Each series is indexed to 100 at the peak of the business cycle before the 1990, 2001, and 2007 recessions. The green and purple lines show that lending standards tightened much more dramatically in the most recent downturn compared with the others. Moreover, standards for small business loans tightened almost twice as much as standards for large businesses. Tightening of standards may generate a sharp reduction in loan supply, which can explain part of the tepid loan growth coming out of the 2007 recession.

How these graphs were created: Search for “commercial and industrial loans,” then add the quarterly seasonally adjusted annual rate data to a graph. Change the units to “Index (Scale value to 100 for chosen period)” and select the 1981 U.S. recession peak for the value. Then select the option to display integer periods instead of dates and make the range from 0 to 20 (five years). Add the same data series for different periods with the “Add Data Series” option, choosing the same units but selecting the other recession peaks. For the second graph, follow the same steps but search for “net percentage of domestic banks tightening,” and select the series for large and middle-market firms and then for small firms.

Suggested by Maximiliano Dvorkin and Hannah Shell

View on FRED, series used in this post: CILACBQ158SBOG, DRTSCILM, DRTSCIS

Bond yields shaken and/or stirred

Bond markets usually adhere to this logic: If a corporate bond is deemed to have a higher risk of default than another, it should have a higher return. Yet, bonds can deviate from this supposedly elementary wisdom. The graph shows yields for four grades of corporate bonds: AAA, AA, A, and BBB. Most of the time, their yields are ranked this way from bottom to top—but not always. There are two reasons for deviations. 1. The maturity composition, or the average maturity of the bonds, within each category can differ substantially. Indeed, yield is more than just risk; it’s also a reward for allowing cash to remain illiquid. 2. Many bonds have the option to be called (i.e., redeemed) before maturity, and the likelihood of this happening may differ across risk grades. In an environment where interest rates are expected to move, both of these situations can matter. The graph shows frequent deviations from the risk ratings for the AAA and AA bond pools. Occasionally the yield for AAA bonds even gets close to the yield for A bonds.

How this graph was created: Search for “US corporate effective yield” and select the series you want. Click on “Add to Graph.” Then order the series by risk rating using the “move up / move down” buttons at the bottom of the “Edit Data Series” tabs so that the legends are ordered appropriately.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann


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