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Agency Costs, Information, and the Structure of Corporate Debt Covenants

Richard Lowery

University of Texas-Austin

Malcolm Wardlaw

University of Texas - Dallas

November 17, 2011

We analyze the determinants of covenant structure in private debt contracts. While previous studies have demonstrated a relationship between firm characteristics and the overall strictness of loan contracts, few studies have examined why covenants are written on a range of accounting variables and what determines their selective use. Using a simple model of firm investment where firms face uncertain cash flows and investment opportunities, we characterize the conditions under which it is optimal for a debt contract to specify a restriction on investment or to specify a minimum cash flow realization. Consistent with this model, we find that the application of covenants based on these variables is not necessarily monotonic in firm risk. While the financially riskiest firms tend to employ capital expenditure covenants, cash flow and net worth covenants are most common among moderately risky firms with greater profitability and firms with stronger banking relationships. The results also highlight the importance of debt covenants in both mitigating agency frictions and maximizing the value of future private information.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

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Date posted: October 12, 2011 ; Last revised: February 14, 2012

Suggested Citation

Lowery, Richard and Wardlaw, Malcolm, Agency Costs, Information, and the Structure of Corporate Debt Covenants (November 17, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1942937 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1942937

Contact Information

Richard Lowery
University of Texas-Austin ( email )
Red McCombs School of Business
Austin, TX 78712
United States

Malcolm Wardlaw (Contact Author)
University of Texas - Dallas ( email )
2601 North Floyd Road
P.O. Box 830688
Richardson, TX 75083
United States
972-883-5903 (Phone)
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