Editor’s Note: This post is from Effi Benmelech of Harvard University.
My paper “Liquidation Values and the Credibility of Financial Contract
Renegotiation: Evidence from U.S. Airlines” co-written with Nittai Bergman, which is forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, documents empirically the conditions under which airlines renegotiate aircraft leases in the United States. The control rights that financial contracts provide over firms’ underlying assets play a fundamental role in the incomplete contracting literature since the threat of asset liquidation motivates debtors to avoid default. Thus, in the incomplete contracting literature, asset liquidation values play a key role in the ex-post determination of debt payments. To date, there is little empirical evidence analyzing the ability of firms to renegotiate their financial liabilities and the role asset values play in such renegotiations. This paper attempts to fill this gap.
We develop an incomplete-contracting model of financial contract renegotiation and estimate it using data on the airline industry in the United States. Our model has two testable implications. First, firms will be able to credibly renegotiate their financial commitments only when their financial situation is sufficiently poor. Second, when a firm’s financial position is sufficiently poor, and hence its renegotiation threat is credible, a reduction in the liquidation value of assets increases the concessions that the firm obtains in renegotiation.
Our empirical analysis examines renegotiation of leases amongst U.S. airlines. We collect data on all publicly traded, passenger-carriers and construct a dataset which includes information about contracted lease payments, actual lease payments, and fleet composition by aircraft type.
In addition, we construct four different measures of the ease of overall re-deployability of an airline’s leased aircraft. We find that publicly traded airlines often renegotiate their lease contracts. Furthermore, we show that aircraft lease renegotiations take place when liquidation values are low and airlines’ financial condition is poor. We supplement our analysis by studying lease renegotiation out of bankruptcy. We find that, even out of bankruptcy, airlines in poor financial condition can reduce their lease payments and that lower fleet re-deployability enables these airlines to extract greater concessions from their lessors.
The full paper is available for download here.