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Some Tentative Good News In The Credit Markets

The Wall Street Journal put the bits and pieces together today. Key passage:

A key barometer for financial-sector health -- the London interbank offered rate -- soared in the fall after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy, because banks quit lending to one another. On Wednesday, the three-month dollar Libor inched up to 1.23% on disappointment about the Treasury Department's financial-stability plan, but has been easing since the start of the year and is down sharply since its peak of 4.82% on Oct. 10.

Also in financial markets, issuance of high-rated corporate bonds is soaring, signaling that markets could be getting back on track to serving their core purpose -- providing funds to firms that need them.

Short-term corporate credit markets also have shown signs of improvement. Interest rates on short-term commercial-paper financing agreements have come down, and firms have become less reliant on a special Federal Reserve facility serving commercial-paper borrowers. ...

Since the start of the year, companies world-wide have sold $264.4 billion of investment-grade corporate bonds that aren't guaranteed through a government program, according to research firm Dealogic. That is up from the fourth quarter of last year, when companies sold on average $82.9 billion of non-government-backed debt a month.

As one of the economists the Journal interviewed puts it: "What we're getting now is a sense that the pace of contraction won't continue at that rate. But it's really a question of being less bad."

--Noam Scheiber