The Ex‐Ante Monitoring Role of Accounting Covenants in Public Debt
27 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2016
Date Written: July/August 2016
In contrast to what is known about accounting covenants in private debt, little empirical evidence on the role of accounting covenants in public debt exists. Diffuse ownership, arm's length monitoring, and collective action problems are unique to the public debt setting and raise the question of whether these covenants serve their intended role. As such, this study investigates whether including covenants reliant upon accounting inputs influences borrowers’ actions to prevent adverse credit events. Accounting covenants in the public debt setting provide firms with a disciplining mechanism to renegotiate ahead of costly technical default – a stark contrast to the ex‐post renegotiation ‘trip wire’ role covenants play in private debt. In particular, the results show that including accounting covenants in public debt is associated with an increased probability of ex‐ante renegotiation, that is, negotiation through consent solicitations ahead of covenant violation. This ex‐ante renegotiation, in turn, is associated with decreased adverse credit events. Cross‐sectional results support these findings as the ex‐ante renegotiation role of accounting covenants varies with bondholders’ and trustees’ monitoring ability.
Keywords: public debt, bonds, covenants, consent solicitations, monitoring, renegotiation, information environment quality, financial reporting quality
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