Why do governments repay external sovereign borrowing? This is a question that has been central to discussions of sovereign debt capacity, yet the answer is still being debated. Models where countries service their external debt for fear of being excluded from capital markets for a sustained period (or some other form of harsh punishment such as trade sanctions or invasion) seem very persuasive, yet are at odds with the fact that defaulters seem to be able to return to borrowing in international capital markets after a short while. With sovereign debt around the world at extremely high levels, understanding why sovereigns repay foreign creditors, and what their debt capacity might be, is an important concern for policy makers and investors. In our paper, Sovereign Debt, Government Myopia, and the Financial Sector, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we attempt to address these issues.
Posts Tagged ‘Debt’
My article, Private Equity Firms as Gatekeepers, identifies an important and overlooked way in which private equity creates value: private equity firms act as gatekeepers in the debt markets. As repeat players, private equity firms establish reputations with lenders that are tied to the credit performance of the companies that they acquire and manage. In turn, private equity firms use their reputations both to certify the creditworthiness of their companies ex ante and to bond against misconduct or poor performance by their companies ex post. Private equity firms thereby mitigate the problems of borrower adverse selection and moral hazard that plague the debt markets. These certification and bonding functions of private equity are best understood as gatekeeping: by causing companies to behave better toward creditors than they otherwise would, private equity firms afford companies access to more capital, and on better terms, than they could otherwise get. The article provides both conceptual and formal proofs of this gatekeeping hypothesis.
The most obvious benefit from private equity’s gatekeeping role is that, all else being equal, it should allow private equity-owned companies to borrow money on better terms than other companies. And crucially, this role will become increasingly valuable in light of sweeping changes in the corporate loan markets. Lenders’ traditional methods of controlling borrower adverse selection and moral hazard – screening, monitoring, and covenants – are in sharp decline. This decline is due to the major shift from relationship banking, in which a company borrows from a single bank that holds the loan until maturity, to syndicated lending. Syndicated loans are funded by large numbers of unrelated creditors and may be traded or securitized to reach still more creditors. As the chain from the borrowing companies to their ultimate creditors lengthens, the information gap between them increases significantly, while creditors’ incentives to monitor their borrowers decline. If private equity firms can credibly fill the void in monitoring left by lenders, their companies will get significantly better financing than other companies.
The topic of this outline is mergers and acquisitions where the target company is “distressed.” Distress for these purposes generally means that a company is having difficulty dealing with its liabilities—whether in making required payments on borrowed money, obtaining or paying down trade credit, addressing debt covenant breaches, or raising additional debt to address funding needs.
Distressed companies can represent attractive acquisition targets. Their stock and their debt often trade at prices reflecting the difficulties they face, and they may be under pressure to sell assets or securities quickly to raise capital or pay down debt. Accordingly, prospective acquirors may have an opportunity to acquire attractive assets or securities at a discount. This outline considers how best to acquire a distressed company from every possible point of entry, whether that consists of buying existing or newly-issued stock, merging with the target, buying assets, or buying existing debt in the hope that it converts into ownership.
Some modestly distressed companies require a mere “band-aid” (such as a temporary waiver of a financial maintenance covenant when the macroeconomy has led to a temporary decline in earnings, but the company is able to meet all of its obligations as they come due). Others require “major surgery” (as where the company is fundamentally over-levered and must radically reduce debt).
In the recent NBER working paper, my co-author, Guillermo Ordoñez of the University of Pennsylvania, and I develop a model to examine the important role collateral plays in the economy. Where do safe assets come from? Empirical evidence suggests that the private sector creates more near riskless assets when the supply of government debt is low and reduces privately-created near riskless assets when the supply of government debt is high. Krishnamurthy and Vissing-Jorgensen (2012) show that the net supply of government debt is strongly negatively correlated with the net supply of private near-riskless debt.
The substitution between public and private safe debt is also shown by Krishnamurthy and Vissing-Jorgensen (2012) who document that changes in the supply of outstanding U.S. Treasuries have large effects on the yields of privately created assets. Gorton, Lewellen, and Metrick (2010) also find this relationship between government debt and privately produced substitutes. They document that the share of safe assets in the U.S. economy, including both U.S. Treasury debt and privately created near-riskless debt has remained constant as a percentage of all U.S. assets since 1952. Xie (2012) shows that the issuance of asset-backed securities tends to occur when the outstanding government debt is low and Sunderam (2012) documents the same phenomenon with respect to asset-backed commercial paper.
By “safe assets,” we mean government debt and privately created high quality debt, in particular, asset-backed securities. Such safe assets are used to collateralize repo, derivative positions, and are needed as collateral in clearing and settlement. See IMF (2012). Further, because they are ”information-insensitive” (in the nomenclature of Dang, Gorton, and Holmstrom (2012)), they are highly liquid and hence can store value without fear of capital losses in times of stress, a form of private money.
Just like 2007… and not much like it at all.
So it was in the financing markets in 2012. Capital flowed to non-investment grade issuers in amounts reminiscent of the earlier time. However, those issuers mainly seized upon rising debt investor confidence in order to consummate refinancings, repricings and dividend recapitalizations, while the banks that arrange leveraged loan and high yield bond deals remained cautious in providing committed financing for acquisitions. Meanwhile, acquisitions, spinoffs and other transactions by investment grade issuers received strong support from arrangers and investors alike, with significant availability of committed financing for complex deals and favorable execution of debt issuances to close transactions. If the first few weeks are a guide, and barring any significant disruption in the interest rate environment, 2013 promises more of the same, but whether committed financing for high yield deals will continue its slow recovery remains to be seen.