Fitch Ratings and Moody’s warned Tuesday that falling oil prices could cause U.S. energy companies and Venezuela to default on debt.
Fitch expects the default rate for U.S. energy junk bonds to rise from the current level of 0.7 percent during the next few years, although the agency has not provided a more specific forecast.
According to Fitch, over $78 billion of junk debt in the U.S. energy sector is rated “weak,” a sizable spike from $55 billion at the end of 2013.
The agency also noted a significant increase in the number of risky corporate bonds trading below 80 cents on the dollar.
When prices were above $100 per barrel only one percent of risky bonds traded below the 80 cents mark.
Currently, about two thirds of those bonds are trading below that level, Fitch said.
Fitch projected a 1.5 percent to 2 percent overall U.S. high-yield default rate in 2015.
Goldman Sachs echoed Fitch’s findings, warning that a wave of defaults could hit the U.S. energy sector if oil hovers around $40 per barrel during the next six months.
Moody’s downgraded Venezuela’s sovereign debt Tuesday from Caa1 to Caa3 and said weak oil prices have “substantially” increased the oil dependent country’s risk of default.
The price of Venezuela’s oil basket fell to an average of $54.03 per barrel in December from an average of $88.42 per barrel in 2014.
“Moody’s believes that the authorities are unlikely to implement forceful policy measures to curb macroeconomic distortions and imbalances in the near term,” Moody’s said.
A default would cause the country’s bondholders to lose over 50 percent of their investments.
Moody’s also warned Venezuela could incur a 2 percent gross domestic product deficit despite ending last year with an estimated 2 percent surplus.