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Covenant Violations, Loan Contracting, and Default Risk of Bank Borrowers

Authors: Saunders, Anthony
Steffen, Sascha
Freudenberg, Felix
Imbierowicz, Bjorn
Issue Date: 9-Jan-2012
Series/Report no.: FIN-11-042
Abstract: Are borrowers rewarded for repaying their loans? This paper investigates the consequences of covenant violations on subsequent loans to the same borrower using a hand-collected sample of US syndicated loans during the 1996 to 2010 period. We find that covenant violations have substantial negative effects for borrowers in subsequent loans. Our results show that the loan spread increases by 22 basis points in the loan following the violation. We also find that the new contract includes more financial covenants which are also more restrictive. Switching banks after a violation does not reduce these effects and even leads to a further increase in loan spreads. We also provide empirical evidence that borrowers who have violated covenants in the previous contract are significantly more likely to violate covenants again in the next loan. Moreover, they violate earlier compared to borrowers who have not violated covenants before. Most importantly, these borrowers also exhibit a substantially higher likelihood to default, particularly in the first 100 days after a violation. Our results suggest that there is an important role for covenants in monitoring borrowers and that covenant violations provide an early warning signal for a severe deterioration of borrower credit quality.
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