Capital structure of the firm, as we discussed in our MBAG 8679A: Risk & Resilience:Applications in Risk Management class in recent weeks, is about counter-balancing equity (higher cost capital with greater safety cushion for the firm) against debt (lower cost capital with higher risk associated with leverage risk). As we noted in some extensions to traditional models of leverage risk, decision to take on new debt as opposed to issue new equity can also involve considerations of timing and be linked to future expected funding demands by the firm.
An interesting corollary to our discussions is what happens when risk of debt roll-over at maturity enters the decision making tree.
A recent paper by Gianpaolo Parise, titled “Threat of Entry and Debt Maturity: Evidence from Airlines” (April 2016, BIS Working Paper No. 556: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2758708) tries to address this question.
In the presence of low-cost competition airlines, traditional, large airlines tend to alter their debt structure. This effect, according to Parise, is pronounced in the case of legacy airlines forced to defend their strategically important routes from new entrants. Per Parise, “…the main findings suggest that airlines respond to entry threats trading off financial flexibility for lower rollover risk.”
More specifically, Parise found that “…a one standard deviation increase in the threat of entry triggers an increase of 4.5 percentage points in the proportion of long-term debt held by incumbent airlines (a 7.4% increase relative to the baseline of 60%). This effect is particularly strong for airlines whose debt is rated as “speculative” and that are financially constrained, i.e., airlines that have in general a more difficult access to credit.”
On the other hand, “the threat of entry has no significant effect on the leverage ratio.”
Overall, “threatened airlines issue debt instruments with longer maturity and with covenants” and that debt issuance aiming to increase maturity comes via intermediated lending (loans) rather than via bond markets (direct market).
“The results are consistent with models in which firms set their optimal debt structure in the presence of costly rollover failure As Parise notes, “Longer debt maturity allows firms to reduce
rollover (or liquidity) risk, i.e., the risk that lenders are unwilling to refinance when bad news
arrives. Rollover risk enhances credit risk…, magnifies the debt overhang problem…, weakens investment,… and exposes the firm to costly debt restructuring…”
A very interesting study showing dynamic and complex interactions between capital structure of the firm and exogenous pressures from competitive environments, in the presence of systemic roll-over risks in the financial system.