The stabilization of energy prices in 2016 stemmed a potential wave of oil patch bankruptcies. That pause could end in 2017 as steep debt loads may prove too much for some suppliers, said Ted Gavin, managing partner of Gavin/Solmonese.
"I think the data show that the prolonged drop in oil prices has led companies seeking to hold on through the trough to use debt to replace what used to be income," said Gavin.
"Rather than curtailing operations, companies are going deeper in debt waiting for pricing to return to a level more likely to provide for breakeven or better operations," said Gavin. "Like all businesses, increases in debt in the oil business has a short lifespan before the company faces failure -- and here we are."
Gavin said the shipping industry is not going to be totally undone by the Hanjin bankruptcy, which many are calling the "Lehman of the shipping world." In his view, there is no lack of capacity in shipping and all the other shippers are going to be getting a little bit healthier by Hanjin's demise.
"It may result in slightly higher goods pricing, but the significance of a broader impact of Hanjin is being overblown," said Gavin.
As for the retail sector, Gavin said the bankruptcies at Sports Authority, Aeropostale and Golfsmith will have a major impact on commercial real estate due to shrinking tenants of this size and scale. Moreover, he said retailers like Sears (SHLD) are at high risk of default due to declining mall traffic, competition from online and other types of retailers, and a lack of a compelling product line.
Finally, Gavin said for-profit colleges and universities could soon be a thing of the past as federal regulators have begun zeroing in on the industry's habit of exploiting students. The last example of this is ITT Educational Services (ESI) , which recently filed for bankruptcy after losing access to federally backed student loans.