Financial reports should provide useful information to both shareholders and creditors, according to U.S. accounting principles. However, directors of corporations have fiduciary duties only toward equity holders, and those fiduciary duties normally do not extend to the interests of creditors. In our paper, Does Corporate Governance Make Financial Reports Better or Just Better for Equity Investors?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine whether this slant in corporate governance biases financial reports in favor of equity investors. We show that the likelihood that firms will manipulate their reporting to circumvent debt covenants is higher when directors owe fiduciary duties only to equity holders, rather than when they owe fiduciary duties also to creditors. Covenants limit the amount of new debt that the firm issues, for example, and by that reduce bankruptcy risk, and allow creditors to avoid bankruptcy costs, and to recover more from the borrowing firm in case it approaches insolvency. When managers manipulate financial reports to circumvent these debt covenants, they transfer wealth from creditors to shareholders. Our results suggest that when corporate governance is designed to protect only equity holders, firms’ financial reports serve equity holders’ interests at the expense of other stakeholders. We find that when the legal regime requires directors to consider creditors’ interests, firms are less likely to use structured transactions designed to skirt debt covenant limits, particularly if the board of directors of the firm is independent.
Posts Tagged ‘Covenants’
In negotiating the terms of a CEO employment arrangement, arguably the most important term for the board of directors of the employer is the non-competition (or non-compete) provision. A recent study by three business and law school professors (Bishara, N., Martin, K, and Thomas, R., When Do CEOs Have Covenants Not to Compete in Their Employment Contracts? (October 18, 2012) Ross School of Business) has found that, in spite of concerns by commentators that CEOs often have bargaining leverage over employers, there has been a significant upward trend over time in the use of non-compete provisions in new and restated CEO contracts. The study found usage of non-competes peaked in 2008 (89%) and in 2010 was at approximately 79%, up from 60-65% in the early 1990s.
Exit consents are often used as a restructuring tool by issuers of bonds. Issuers invite bondholders to exchange their existing bonds for new bonds (usually with a lower principal amount). In order to participate in the exchange, bondholders must agree to vote in favour of a resolution that amends the terms of the existing bonds so as to negatively affect (or, in Assénagon,  substantially destroy) their value. This is referred to as ‘covenant-stripping’. If the issuer does not achieve the majority needed to pass the resolution, the covenant-strip and the exchange do not happen. But if the resolution is passed, each participating holder’s bonds are exchanged for the new bonds, and the terms of the old bonds are amended to remove most of the protective covenants. This incentivises bondholders to participate in the exchange: accepting the new bonds (even though they will usually have a lower face amount than the existing bonds) may be preferable to being ‘left behind’ in the old bonds, which will cease to have any meaningful covenant protection.
Facts of the case
Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Limited (the “Bank”) suffered severe financial difficulties as a result of the financial crisis, and was nationalised in January 2009. As part of its restructuring, the Bank proposed an exchange offer whereby:
In our recent working paper, When Do CEOs Have Covenants Not to Compete in Their Employment Contracts?, we undertake the first comprehensive study of contractual restrictions on CEOs’ post-employment competitive activities. The large random sample of nearly 1,000 CEO employment contracts for 500 companies was selected from the S&P 1500 from the 1990s through 2010. We find that about 70% of CEO contracts have post-employment competitive restrictions. We also find more covenants not to compete (CNCs or noncompetes) in longer-term employment contracts and at profitable firms. In addition, our study uses a nuanced state-by-state CNC strength of enforcement index to test the variance of CEO noncompetes across jurisdictions.
In the paper, Accounting Standards and Debt Covenants: Has the “Balance Sheet Approach” Led to a Decline in the Use of Balance Sheet Covenants?, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Economics as published by Elsevier, I examine whether the “balance sheet approach” has led to a decline in the use of balance sheet covenants. Debt contracts, and especially private loan agreements, frequently include accounting-based debt covenants. Many of these covenants require the borrower to maintain a threshold level of some financial ratio or measure. A broad range of financial measures are employed in these financial covenants. Some are written on earnings from the income statement; the borrower may be required to maintain a minimum level of earnings relative to their interest expense (interest coverage) or their total debt (debt-to-earnings). Similarly, covenants are also written on values from the balance sheet; these include covenants requiring a minimum level for the book value of equity (net worth) or a maximum amount of debt in the capital structure (leverage). If the borrower fails to maintain a covenant threshold, the debt enters technical default. In technical default, the creditor has the option to attempt action against the borrower; a common consequence is renegotiation with stricter contract terms.
In the paper, Capital versus Performance Covenants in Debt Contracts, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we propose a simple classification of financial covenants into two distinct groups: performance covenants and capital covenants. Performance covenants rely on measures of profitability and efficiency whereas capital covenants rely on information about sources and uses of capital, i.e., balance sheet information. We argue that capital covenants align incentives between borrowers and lenders by limiting the amount of debt in the borrower’s capital structure. In contrast, performance covenants act as tripwires that transfer control to lenders when performance deteriorates and hence incentive conflicts between shareholders and lenders become more acute.