The well is running dry for deeply indebted energy companies. Samson Resources Corp. became the latest, and largest, victim of an industry downturn, as it filed for chapter 11 protection late Wednesday. Industry experts say more oil-and-gas companies are poised to follow the Tulsa, Okla., company into bankruptcy as oil prices remain low following a steep drop that began last year. The default rate among U.S. energy companies has accelerated in recent months to 4.8%, the highest level since 1999 and up from 3.3% in August, according to Fitch Ratings. Within that group, exploration and production companies like Samson are defaulting at an even higher rate, 8.5%, Fitch said. Default volume for such companies is the highest it has been in five years, at $10.4 billion in debt. The broader U.S. corporate default rate is 2.9%, according to Fitch. Meanwhile, the yield on a basket of U.S. junk-rated energy bonds has risen to 11%, just off its highest level since July 2009 and up from 5.9% a year ago, according to Barclays PLC. The increase indicates a lack of investor confidence that the bonds will be repaid in full. Yields on debt rise as prices fall.
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