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Stock illustration: Quantifying Covid effects

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a spike in bankruptcies among midsize to large U.S. businesses. In 2020, 244 U.S. companies with liabilities over $50 million filed for bankruptcy protection. That’s up nearly 70 percent from the 144 filings in 2019, and is the most since 2009, when 293 U.S. companies sought bankruptcy protection.

This news isn’t particularly surprising following a year in which corporate borrowing jumped dramatically. The Treasury & Risk2020 Cash Management Survey” saw a significant shift in the proportion of readers whose companies are net borrowers. In 2019, close to two-thirds (62 percent) of survey respondents said their company was a net investor, while 38 percent reported being net borrowers. By the fall of 2020, only 52 percent of companies still had more funds than debt. Almost half (48 percent) said instead that their organization was a net borrower—an increase of more than 26 percent in just one year.

In fact, these numbers gibe with Treasury & Risk coverage all year, which reported corporate debt increasing to concerning levels, as well as alarming growth in the number of “zombie” companies—those whose revenues can’t cover interest expenses. As of late November, nearly 20 percent of the 3,000 largest publicly traded companies in the United States were zombies.

Meg Waters

Meg Waters is the editor in chief of Treasury & Risk. She is the former editor in chief of BPM Magazine and the former managing editor of Business Finance.

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