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Optimal Property Rights in Financial Contracting

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  • Kenneth Ayotte
  • Patrick Bolton

Abstract

In this paper we propose a theory of optimal property rights in a financial contracting setting. Following recent contributions in the property law literature, we emphasize the distinction between contractual rights, that are only enforceable against the parties themselves, and property rights, that are also enforeceable against third parties outside the contract. Our analysis starts with the following question: which contractual agreements should the law allow parties to enforce as property rights? Our proposed answer to this question is shaped by the overall objective of minimizing due diligence (reading) costs and investment distortions that follow from the inability of third-party lenders to costlessly observe pre-existing rights in a borrower's property. Borrowers cannot reduce these costs without the law's help, due to an inability to commit to protecting third-parties from redistribution. We find that the law should take a more restrictive approach to enforcing rights against third-parties when these rights are i) more costly for third-parties to discover, ii) more likely to redistribute value from third-parties, and iii) less likely to increase efficiency. We find that these qualitative principles are often reflected in observed legal rules, including the enforceability of negative covenants; fraudulent conveyance; corporate veil-piercing; and limits on assignability.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13316.

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Date of creation: Aug 2007
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Publication status: published as Kenneth Ayotte & Patrick Bolton, 2011. "Optimal Property Rights in Financial Contracting," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 24(10), pages 3401-3433.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13316

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  1. Alan Schwartz, 1997. "Priority Contracts and Priority in Bankruptcy," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm72, Yale School of Management.
  2. Grossman, Sanford J & Hart, Oliver, 1985. "The Cost and Benefits of Ownership: A Theory of Vertical and Lateral Integration," CEPR Discussion Papers 70, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 1988. "Property Rights and the Nature of the Firm," Working papers 495, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  4. Alberto Bisin & Adriano Rampini, 2006. "Exclusive contracts and the institution of bankruptcy," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 27(2), pages 277-304, January.
  5. Jensen, Michael C. & Meckling, William H., 1976. "Theory of the firm: Managerial behavior, agency costs and ownership structure," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 305-360, October.
  6. Hansmann, Henry & Kraakman, Reinier, 2002. "Property, Contract, and Verification: The Numerus Clausus Problem and the Divisibility of Rights," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages S373-420, June.
  7. Alchian, Armen A & Demsetz, Harold, 1972. "Production , Information Costs, and Economic Organization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(5), pages 777-95, December.
  8. Bizer, David S & DeMarzo, Peter M, 1992. "Sequential Banking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(1), pages 41-61, February.
  9. Avery Katz, 1990. "Your Terms or Mine? The Duty to Read the Fine Print in Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(4), pages 518-537, Winter.
  10. Klein, Benjamin & Crawford, Robert G & Alchian, Armen A, 1978. "Vertical Integration, Appropriable Rents, and the Competitive Contracting Process," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 297-326, October.
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