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More missed payments by US corporations helped to nearly double the total amount of global corporate defaults this year amid signs of an economic slowdown and higher market volatility.

Global defaults have risen to 39 so far this year versus 21 in the same period a year ago with plastics maker Kloeckner Holdings and media company Central European Media Enterprises the latest to default, according to Standard & Poor’s.

While those two companies were based in Luxembourg and Bermuda, US-based corporations accounted for most of the defaults so far this year, with 23 in total.

Barneys New York, DirectBuy Holdings and Reichhold Industries were some of the US-based companies that either missed payments, conducted “distressed exchanges” or filed for bankruptcy in the first half of the year. A distressed exchange consists of a company swapping its debt for other securities or cash that equals less than par, or 100 cents on the dollar.

In Europe, where five companies including Ireland’s ERC Ireland Preferred Equity and Swiss Petroplus Holdings defaulted, the top reasons for default were missed coupon payments and debt restructuring.

Diane Vazza, head of global fixed income research at S&P, said 12-month trailing default rates in the US have been rising steadily in recent months, and may climb to 3.6 per cent by March of 2013 from 2.7 per cent in June.

However, she noted overall US default rates remain below a long-term average of 4.5 per cent.

“The highs in default rates we’ve seen in 2008 and 2009 won’t come back unless we face a severe and prolonged recession in the US,” Ms Vazza said.

After a strong start of the year, companies with lower credit ratings saw debt capital markets dry up in the second quarter as worries over the fate of the eurozone and weaker economic data from China and the US sapped investor appetite.

Overall global debt capital market issuance in the second quarter dropped 39 per cent to $1.15tn, from the first three months of 2012. The decline in junk bond sales was even worse, down 53 per cent in the second quarter.

Analysts remained sanguine about the corporate default trends in spite of this year’s uptick. As interest rates fell to record lows in recent years, many companies have been able to refinance their debt and push out their upcoming maturities, giving them some breathing room in case of a slowdown.

“In light of the uncertain economic outlook, companies have held back on investment and built up cash, giving them a cushion against failure on their obligations ” said Martin Fridson, head of credit strategy at BNP Paribas Investment Partners.

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