Do Bond Covenants Affect Borrowing Costs?
8 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2014
Date Written: Spring 2014
High yield bond investors spend a great deal of time studying covenants. They even hire specialized consultants to help them interpret the dense language of indentures. But for all that, does a company's decision to offer strong rather than weak covenants—or to offer covenants at all—have a measurable impact on its borrowing costs?. There is surprisingly little evidence that variation in credit risk premiums reflects the presence or absence of covenants. Taking advantage of a newly available kind of data—Moody's Investors Service's Covenant Quality (CQ) ratings, which were initiated in 2011—the authors studied each newly issued U.S. high yield bond beginning in 2011 using Moody's CQ ratings, where a rating of “1” represents the strongest covenant rating and “5” the weakest. The authors hypothesize that if investors are willing to pay for covenant protection, bonds with weak CQ scores should have spreads that are higher, on average, than the medians of the bonds in their rating group. What they found, however, was that even bonds rated CQ5, indicating negligible protection, had spreads that were only 9.54 basis points higher than the median of companies with the same credit rating. The authors also found, contrary to their initial supposition, that higher yields were associated with stronger covenants, suggesting that investors demand more protection on issues they view as having greater credit risk than other equivalently rated issues.
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