They were once models of financial strength—corporate giants like AT&T Inc., Bayer AG and British American Tobacco Plc.
Then came a decade of weak sales growth and rock-bottom interest rates, a dangerous cocktail that left many companies feeling like they had just one easy way to grow: by borrowing heaps of cash to buy competitors. The resulting acquisition binge left an unprecedented number of major corporations just a rung or two from junk credit ratings, bringing them closer to a designation that historically has made it much more expensive to fund daily business and harder to navigate economic downturns.
In fact, a lot of these companies might be rated junk already if not for leniency from credit raters. To avoid tipping over the edge now, they will have to deliver on lofty promises to cut costs and pay down borrowings quickly, before the easy money ends.
Bloomberg News delved into 50 of the biggest corporate acquisitions over the last five years, and found: