Government Equity Investments in Coronavirus Bailouts: Why, How, When?
36 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2020 Last revised: 14 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 14, 2020
Governments around the world are attempting to support individuals’ incomes, rescue distressed businesses, and preserve employer-employee relationships damaged in the coronavirus pandemic by adopting fiscal stimulus programs of unprecedented scale. Although the bulk of this spending will involve direct payments to individuals or some type of direct lending or loan guarantees to businesses, large sums will (and should) take the form of government purchases of equity in distressed firms — either by direct purchase or by exercising warrants attached to rescue loans. We discuss why we think these equity injections will be necessary, but only in a limited number of cases; how they should be structured; when investments should be made and, almost as important, exited. We summarize (and tabulate) both the modest recent history of governments rescuing non-financial firms with equity injections and the voluminous research examining the efficacy of governments rescuing failing banks using equity investments. We highlight the dangers that would likely arise if governments permanently retain and vote the equity stakes purchased during the current crisis. Where equity investments must be made, we argue that these should: (1) be effective, in being large enough to be decisive; (2) be passive after the initial injection, when some financial restrictions should be imposed; (3) be temporary and preferably self-liquidating through open-market sales or redemptions; (4) provide taxpayers an upside claim if and when the rescued firm recovers; (5) be restricted to exchange-listed companies in all but extreme cases; and (6) be timely, as speed is crucial. In most cases, the default instrument to employ should be either non-voting preferred stock or warrants that convert into immediately marketable common shares, and we present a numerical example of how a preferred stock-with-warrants equity investment could pay off handsomely for taxpayers if rescued companies recover even partially.
Keywords: Bailouts; Equity capital injections; Preferred stock & warrants; Central bank policies; Fiscal & stabilization policies; TARP; Transportation & hospitality industries; Corporate governance
JEL Classification: E58; E69; G1, G12, G18, G32, G38, H11; H60; H81; J54; L69; L91; Q41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation