There are some strange rumblings in the bond market: Moody's Investors Service, which tracks how many companies have “probability-of-default” ratings of B3 and a negative outlook, had 248 companies on that list as of the first of the year. That's the highest figure in six years, and 36 percent higher than the year earlier.
Much of the increase, unsurprisingly, came from oil and natural gas companies. Of the 174 companies that were added to the watchlist last year, more than a third were oil and gas firms. As it stands now, about 25 percent of companies on the list are oil and gas firms.
Another warning sign: A distress ratio calculated by Standard & Poor’s, which measures the amount of junk debt trading with very high yields relative to the broader market, increased to 29.6 percent as of January 15. The last time the ratio was higher was in July 2009.