Howard Marks Forecasts Corporate Debt Challenges Amid Interest Rate Hikes

By David Love, Quiver Editor

Posted: 3 weeks, 1 day ago // Sept. 6, 2023 8:07 p.m. UTC

In a recent interview, Howard Marks, the co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, vocalized concerns regarding the impending risk of increased debt defaults by corporations, particularly instigated by the escalation in interest rates hindering their ability to generate capital. Marks elucidated that the current financial climate, characterized by tightened avenues to raise funds, stands in stark contrast to the preceding period where securing financial resources was comparatively straightforward, even for non-essential ventures. As companies grapple with this altered landscape, a surge in defaults, particularly in the realms of buyouts and real estate, seems inevitable. This dire forecast outlines a precarious path for firms, with Marks emphasizing that the dual challenges of diminished finances and augmented capital costs might prove insurmountable for some.

Oaktree Capital Management, established in 1995 with a primary focus on distressed debt, now oversees approximately $180 billion in assets, having expanded its purview significantly. Marks, who previously spearheaded investment teams at TCW, is renowned for his expertise in distressed debt. Over time, he has cultivated a vast audience for his investment memos, disseminating insights on market trends, international events, and assorted subjects. His commentary, rich with seasoned observations, serves as a valuable resource in understanding the nuanced shifts in the current economic landscape.

The sudden swell in interest rates from March 2022 onwards has engineered a notably hostile borrowing environment, reminiscent of the challenges witnessed during the 2008 global financial crisis. Asset managers, along with real estate investors, are navigating this rigid climate that has exacerbated the cost of refinancing existing liabilities or spearheading new acquisitions. Consequently, this scenario has fueled a spike in defaults within the commercial real estate sector, with formidable entities like Blackstone (BX) Brookfield Corp (BAM) and Goldman Sachs (GS) succumbing to financial strains within this year itself.

Marks criticized the stagnant nature of the Federal funds rate, which lingered around zero for a considerable span from 2009 to 2021, denouncing it as "inappropriate" due to its propensity to favor borrowers at the expense of lenders and savers. He advocates for a more balanced approach from the US Federal Reserve, proposing an interest rate bracket between 2% and 4% as inflation recedes, thereby fostering a healthier economic equilibrium. Reflecting on the extended period of low interest rates, Marks analogized it to a prolonged adrenaline rush, unsustainable and potentially detrimental in the long run. In line with this, he expressed a desire for the Federal Reserve to assume a neutral stance, devoid of either stimulative or restrictive tendencies. Meanwhile, Oaktree continues to retain its operational autonomy, despite the majority stake acquisition by Brookfield over three years ago, ensuring the continued influence of its original leaders.

Relevant tickers: BX, BAM, GS

About the Author: David Love is an editor at Quiver Quantitative, with a focus on global markets and breaking news. Prior to joining Quiver, David was the CEO of Winter Haven Capital.