Mixed signals

Credit quality remains a significant concern. In the fourth quarter of 2002, the signs were decidedly mixed, with enough good news to make the market hopeful, but not enough to solidly justify those hopes.

For example, at the end of November, Standard & Poor’s rolling 12-month US speculative-grade default rate had tumbled to 7.84%, while its EU counterpart had declined to 12.95%. The previous month, they were 8.38% and 13.19% respectively.

On the other hand, investment-grade defaults were up slightly in both regions for the same period. Similarly, S&P predicts that in 2002 the US speculative-grade default rate will have declined to 7–7.5%, from 9.77% in 2001. However, US investment-grade

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