Stock photo of Javier Ramirez is seen through the crystal ball while practicing before a show in the national jugglers encounter in Concepcion, 500 km from Santiago. Picture taken March 12, 2004.  	 REUTERS/STR NewRating agencies Moody’s and S&P regularly publish figures on how many companies have defaulted on their debt, and the numbers are rising fast.

S&P’s latest report, which came out on Thursday, shows the global speculative-grade bond default rate increased to 8.58% in July, up slightly on June, and a massive hike on the record low of 0.79% hit in November 2007.

It is less clear what will happen next. Earlier this year the agencies predicted defaults amongst speculative grade borrowers could reach 20 percent — a huge increase — but now agencies have rowed back and are painting a slightly less bleak picture.

S&P’s new report says the number of “weakest links” — companies with low (B- or worse) ratings on review for a downgrade or with a negative outlook — has declined. This, the agency says, is because the increased number of defaults has knocked out many of these weak credits.

A sliver of silver lining around this grey cloud is that the rate of companies falling into weakest-link territory is lower than the number of companies defaulting, which may suggest the default rate may ease sooner rather than later.