I’m adding this post to the regular lineup as the trends in the commercial paper market may yield important clues to the health of the overall economy.
The Commercial Paper (CP) market is essentially a private debt market used by corporations as a cheaper means of funding typical recurring operations than drawing on a line of bank credit.
Commercial paper, as a financial instrument, is by no means a recent innovation and, in fact, you can read about how the CP market was affected by the many historic financial shocks experienced by the U.S. (read Panic on Wall Street: A History of America’s Financial Disasters or this these details of the Panic of 1837)
Although the Federal Reserve was able to artificially bring CP rates down significantly since the shocking 615 basis point spread blowout (A2/P2 spread) of late 2008, they have apparently not been successful in preventing an overall contraction in the CP market.
The Federal Reserve calculates and published the total amount of CP outstanding every week and as of the latest published period, commercial paper outstanding is contracting at the fastest rate on record, registering a whopping 36.14% decline year-over-year.
Another important insight, at $1.136 trillion the total CP market is now 10.7% smaller than the $1.272 trillion seen at the bottom of the last contraction in late 2003.
The CP market that expanded wildly throughout 2004, 2005, 2006 and most of 2007 is now no more, replaced instead by one smaller and contracting faster than at any other time in this century.