Private equity and financial distress

Larry Ribstein —  7 May 2011

I’ve written often, particularly in my Rise of the Uncorporation, of the upside disciplinary effect of uncorporate management.  This includes the salutary role of private equity (e.g., this recent post). But detractors argue that private equity-backed leveraged buyouts, by replacing equity with debt, make targets vulnerable to the disruption of bankruptcy. 

A recent paper by Stromberg, Hotchkiss and Smith, Private Equity and the Resolution of Financial Distress (also in the Harvard blog), relates to that claim.  Here’s the abstract:  

In order to understand the role of private equity firms in the restructuring of financially distressed firms, we examine the private equity ownership of 2,156 firms which obtained leveraged loan financing between 1997 and 2010. The economic downturn beginning in 2007 is associated with a marked increase in defaults of these highly leveraged companies; approximately 50% of defaults involve PE-backed companies. However, PE-backed firms are no more likely to default during this period than other firms with similar leverage characteristics. But defaulting firms that are private equity backed spend less time in financial distress and are more likely to survive as an independent reorganized company versus being sold to a strategic buyer or liquidated. The ability to restructure more efficiently seems to be affected by the PE sponsor’s financial as well as reputational capital. In contrast, recovery rates to junior creditors are lower for PE-backed firms.

In other words, analysis of private equity needs to look beyond the debt to the benefits of uncorporate governance in managing that debt.

Larry Ribstein

Posts

Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law