A handful of blue-chip U.S. companies are starting to pay back the $350 billion that investment-grade corporations borrowed in total to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Target Corp. and CVS Health Corp. have recently announced that they are buying back investment-grade bonds, using cash—plus, in the case of CVS, some borrowed money as well. AT&T Inc. said last month it plans to use excess cash to further reduce debt.

It's unclear how many companies are joining in. Investment-grade corporations saw their indebtedness rise to a record high in the second quarter by at least one metric, according to a report from Barclays Plc on September 30: The ratio of total debt to a measure of earnings known as EBITDA climbed to four times, compared with figures that have ranged between two and three times since 1990.

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