This is no time to be a country that relies heavily on tourism to keep its economy going. Combine that with a huge debt load and weak fiscal policies, and that’s a recipe for financial disaster.
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Three countries have already defaulted on their debt this year: Argentina, Ecuador and Lebanon. More are at risk, according to Fitch Ratings. That matches the record for a single year (this also happened in 2017). And, in case you’re like us and don’t remember what month this is, it’s only May.
More defaults are probable this year, Fitch says.
What’s happening: Fitch downgraded the debt of 29 countries this year, eight of which have debt in the super-speculative “C” range, at given to countries at high risk of default. The credit-ratings agency also said a couple dozen other countries are at risk for downgrades.
The most precarious sovereign debt is from four African nations: Gabon, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo and Zambia. At risk of joining them in the “C’s” are El Salvador, Iraq and Sri Lanka.
On average, the default rate for those C-rated countries has been 26.5% over the past 25 years, Fitch says. And they typically default quickly: It takes an average of just seven months for a country to default after getting downgraded to a “C.”
The problem has gotten worse recently. Over the past five years, the default rate for the worst-rated countries soared to 38.5%. Only five nations downgraded to the C’s have avoided default.
Who’s next: Among the countries at biggest risk of default are those that rely on exporting commodities, especially oil. Energy prices have cratered because practically no one is traveling during the pandemic. Demand for oil is so low that some producers are running out of room to store all those unwanted barrels. A poorly-timed price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia hasn’t helped matters, although recent production cuts have stabilized prices somewhat.
Yet plenty of oil-producing nations are healthy. The countries at highest risk of default have various underlying problems, and plummeting oil prices put them over the edge: Stir in some high interest rates and low cash reserves, and that starts to look like a toxic mix.
Sovereign defaults remain rare: Fitch says only 14 countries have defaulted a total of 23 times since the mid 1990s. But they’re becoming more common, and the coronavirus economy is making them far more likely.
American retailers are about to report earnings
This week, American retailers are going to show how coronavirus has changed the way people shop.
US retail sales plunged 16.4% last month, the Commerce Department reported Friday. That’s a record decline.
The precipitous drop came as people have drastically altered their purchase behavior. Few people are buying clothes or planning vacations. Gas purchases are way down. But home essentials, such as food, toilet paper and cleaning products, have soared.
Walmart (WMT) is primed to capitalize from that shift. It’s America’s biggest grocer, and people have been flocking there stock up on food and essentials for months. Wall Street analysts surveyed by Refinitiv expect the company’s sales to have soared 6% last quarter. Walmart (WMT) will report its earnings on Tuesday morning before the bell.
Target (TGT) is also poised to benefit from the same trends. And Alibaba (BABA) could get a big boost from the global embrace of ecommerce shopping during stay-at-home orders. Target (TGT)’s sales are expected to have risen 8%, and Alibaba (BABA)’s revenue is forecast to have grown by 14%. Target (TGT) will report earnings Wednesday, and Alibaba (BABA) is slated for Friday.
Home Depot (HD) and Lowe’s (LOW) are also likely to get a sales boost. Both were deemed essential businesses during the past few months, and a rise in home buying before the pandemic has sent some new homeowners out looking for hardware. Home Depot (HD)’s sales are expected to have risen nearly 5% and Lowe’s (LOW) sales are forecast to have risen 1%.. Home Depot (HD) will report earnings on Tuesday, and Lowe’s (LOW) reports on Wednesday.
Not so much for Kohl’s (KSS) and L Brands (LB), both of which will report earnings this week as well and are forecast to tumble. Neither company was doing all that well before the pandemic, and apparel sales have fallen off a cliff. Kohl’s (KSS) sales are expected to drop 1.5% and L Brands (LB)’ sales are predicted to tumble 2.4%.
Monday: NAHB US housing market index report
Tuesday: Walmart, Kohl’s and Home Depot earnings, US housing starts report
Wednesday: Target, L Brands and Lowe’s earnings
Thursday: US initial unemployment claims, Best Buy (BBY) earnings, US existing home sales report
Friday: Deere (DE) and Alibaba earnings
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Suriname's geographic location.