May 30 - The number of global weakest links decreased to 126 as of May 21 from 127 as of April 25, said an article published today by Standard & Poor's Global Fixed Income Research, titled Global Weakest Links And Default Rates: The Weakest Links Count Decreases. Weakest links are issuers rated 'B-' and lower with either negative outlooks or ratings on CreditWatch with negative implications. The 126 weakest links have total rated debt worth $196.9 billion. "In 2012, 35 issuers so far have defaulted through May 21, including confidential entities," said Diane Vazza, head of Standard & Poor's Global Fixed Income Research. "These defaulted issuers have outstanding debt worth $41.9 billion." In 2011, 53 defaulted issuers had combined outstanding debt worth $87.7 billion. By comparison, 82 issuers defaulted on debt worth $97.5 billion in 2010, and 264 issuers defaulted on debt worth $627.7 billion in 2009. The 12-month-trailing global corporate speculative-grade default rate fell to 2.28% in April from 2.4% in March. Regionally, the U.S. corporate speculative-grade default rate rose marginally to 2.59% from 2.53%, while the European default rate again dipped slightly to 2.22% from 2.27%. The default rate in the emerging markets also decreased, to 1.3% from 1.47%. The U.S. has the highest number of weakest links with 81, or 64.3% of the global total. "By sector, media and entertainment, banks, metals, mining, and steel, forest products and building materials, and homebuilders and real estate companies have the greatest concentrations of weakest links," said Ms. Vazza. The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.2% in the first quarter of 2012, according to advanced estimates. In the fourth quarter of 2011, real GDP grew by 3%. In the U.S., 30 new speculative-grade deals came to market in May 2012 (through May 21), following 36 deals in April and 64 deals in March 2012. The report is available to subscribers of RatingsDirect on the Global Credit Portal at www.globalcreditportal.com. If you are not a RatingsDirect subscriber, you may purchase a copy of the report by calling (1) 212-438-7280 or sending an e-mail to email@example.com. Ratings information can also be found on Standard & Poor's public Web site by using the Ratings search box located in the left column at www.standardandpoors.com.