Moody's Investment Services, in a bid to jump ahead of the curve on corporate bankruptcies, has published a list of speculative-grade companies with the greatest risk of defaulting. The Bottom Rung is Moody's answer to those that have criticized the ratings agencies for being too slow in missing the credit problems that have plagued U.S. companies and have been responsible for the global economic downturn. The list provides ample evidence of a severe default cycle with 283 speculative-grade issuers included, compared with 157 a year ago. Of the 283 companies listed, nearly half belong to the media, automotive, retail, manufacturing and gaming industries. Moody's said that more than 23% of all U.S. speculative-grade companies are on the Bottom Rung list, compared with 9% two years ago.
Among the media companies listed as probable defaults are Sirius XM ( SIRI), Charter Communications ( CHTR), Spanish Broadcasting System ( SBSA), Radio One ( ROIA) and Univision. It comes as no surprise that General Motors ( GM), Ford ( F) and Chrysler are featured on the list as well, in addition to several other auto-related companies including American Axle & Manufacturing ( AXL), Cooper Tire & Rubber ( CTB), Lear ( LEA) and Visteon ( VC). Retailers have been especially hit hard with the drop in consumer spending, with several names already closing shops amid bankruptcy, including Circuit City, Mervyn's and KB Toys. Moody's cites Bon-Ton Stores ( BONT), Blockbuster ( BBI), Rite Aid ( RAD), Michael's Stores, Duane Reade and Harry & David, among others, as those with a speculative grade rating in danger of defaulting.