There is a group of bankers for whom "better" means "worse" for everyone else: we are talking, of course, about restructuring bankers who advising companies with massive debt veering toward bankruptcy, or once in it, how to exit from the clutches of Chapter 11, and who - like the IMF, whose chief Christine Lagarde recently said "When The World Goes Downhill, We Thrive" -thrive during financial chaos and mass defaults.
Which is to say that the past decade has not been exactly friendly to the world's restructuring bankers, who with the exception of two bursts of activity, the oil collapse-driven E&P bust in 2015 and the bursting of the retail "bricks and mortar" bubble in 2017, have been generally far less busy than usual, largely as a result of abnormally low rates which have allowed most companies to survive as "zombies", thriving on the ultra low interest expense.
However, as Moody's warned yesterday, and as the IMF cautioned a year ago, this period of artificial peace and stability is ending, as rates rise and as a avalanche of junk bond debt defaults. And judging by their recent public comments, restructuring bankers have rarely been more exited about the future.
Take Ken Moelis, who last month was pressed about his rosy outlook for his firm's restructuring business, describing "meaningful activity" for the bank's restructuring group.
"Your comments were surprisingly positive," said JPMorgan's Ken Worthington, quoted by Business Insider. "Is this sort of steady state for you in a lousy environment? Can things only get better from here?"
Moelis' response: "Look, it could get worse. I guess nobody could default. But I think between 1% and 0% defaults and 1% and 5% defaults, I would bet we hit 5% before we hit 0%."
He is right, because as we showed yesterday in this chart from Credit Suisse, after languishing around 1%-2% for years, default rates have jumped the most in 5 years, and are now "ticking higher"
Moelis wasn't alone in his pessimism: in March, JPMorgan investment-banking head Daniel Pinto said that a 40% correction, triggered by inflation and rising interest rates, could be looming on the horizon.
These are not isolated cases where a gloomy Cassandra has escaped from the asylum: already the biggest money managers are positioning for a major economic downturn according to recent research from Bank of America. And while nobody can predict the timing of the next collapse, Wall Street's top restructuring bankers have one message: it's coming, and it's not too far off.
However, the most dire warning to date came from Bill Derrough, the former head of restructuring at Jefferies and the current co-head of recap and restructuring at Moelis: "I do think we're all feeling like where we were back in 2007," he told Business Insider: "There was sort of a smell in the air; there were...