Big U.S. companies are paying higher risk premiums when they borrow and finding less demand for their bonds, a sign that investors are worried about rising wages and slowing economic growth hitting corporate profit growth.

Companies are responding by borrowing less: They sold around $8 billion of U.S. investment-grade debt last month, about a seventh of the average for December over the last decade. The low levels of high-grade company borrowing reflect how even if U.S. workers are doing relatively well—a report on Friday said average hourly earnings in December jumped—those wage gains are pressuring companies' bottom lines.

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