The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Lessons from the credit crisis debacle

- Steven Miller is managing director of Standard & Poor’s LCD, a unit not part of Standard & Poor’s ratings business. The opinions are his own and not those of S&P.-

As the worst credit crisis since the 1930s recedes, investors are starting to boil down the lessons of the past two and a half years.

With time, we’ll get smarter about how to interpret the recent upheaval but for now, it comes down to these: (1) financial covenants, which test the financial health of a borrower each quarter, can be used to reset loan spreads when times are tough, (2) collateral is indeed resilient, (3) bubbles work in both directions, (4) models are better at predicting the past than the future and (5) “black swans” –- those big unexpected events and their consequences -- take many forms.

This first item is hardly a surprise. Lenders knew going in that by foregoing covenants, which would have allowed them to re-price loans to struggling issuers, they were giving up the power to force borrowers to pay more as their financial profile deteriorated. The extent of that omission is now clear: By the end of 2009, loans with covenant tests paid an average spread over LIBOR of 3.20 percent compared to 2.33 percent for loans that lacked such tests -– the so-called “covenant-lite” loans that proliferated during the height of the boom.