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Priority Contracts and Priority in Bankruptcy


  • Alan Schwartz

    () (Law School)


Parties to lending agreements can create priority rankings in two ways: by securing a lender or by protecting the lender's debt with financial covenants. Protected debt turns into high priority debt because the early lender will permit covenant violations only if a later lender agrees to subordinate its claim. The Bankruptcy Code sustains both forms of priority by according secured debt senior status and by enforcing subordination agreements among creditors. The latter priority is not controversial but several recent reform proposals would reduce the secured lender's priority. This article argues that creditors who lend early in a firm's life are concerned about debt dilution, which can occur even when all of the borrower's later projects have positive values. It then shows that the equilibrium financial contract for private debt has strong borrowers protecting the early debt with financial covenants, and it suggests that weak borrowers protect the early debt with security. Thus security and financial covenants may be substitutes. "Covenant equilibria" are argued to be efficient. That these equilibria closely resemble "security equilibria," and that arguments for the inefficiency of the secured lender's priority are weak, both argue that the Bankruptcy Code's current respect for both forms of priority should continue. The article also argues that financial covenants should be made binding on later lenders whose advances would cause covenant violations.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan Schwartz, 1997. "Priority Contracts and Priority in Bankruptcy," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm72, Yale School of Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:ysm72

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Nancy Huyghebaert & Linda Gucht & Cynthia Hulle, 2007. "The Choice between Bank Debt and Trace Credit in Business Start-ups," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 29(4), pages 435-452, December.
    2. Bolton, Patrick & Jeanne, Olivier, 2005. "Structuring and Restructuring Sovereign Debt: The Role of Seniority," CEPR Discussion Papers 4901, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Randall S. Kroszner & Philip E. Strahan, 1999. "Bankers on Boards: Monitoring, Conflicts of Interest, and Lender Liability," NBER Working Papers 7319, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Richard Hines & Jeremy Berkowitz, 1998. "Bankruptcy exemptions and the market for mortgage loans," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1998-07, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    5. Longhofer, Stanley D. & Santos, Joao A. C., 2000. "The Importance of Bank Seniority for Relationship Lending," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, vol. 9(1), pages 57-89, January.
    6. 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.
    7. John Armour & Michael J Whincop, 2005. "The Proprietary Foundations of Corporate Law," Working Papers wp299, Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge.
    8. Clas Bergström & Theodore Eisenberg & Stefan Sundgren, 2004. "On the Design of Efficient Priority Rules for Secured Creditors: Empirical Evidence from A Change in Law," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 273-297, December.
    9. Ran Bi, 2006. "Debt Dilution and Maturity Structure of Sovereign Bonds," 2006 Meeting Papers 652, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    10. Stanley D. Longhofer & Stephen R. Peters, 2000. "Protection for whom? creditor conflicts in bankruptcy," Working Paper 9909R, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
    11. Richard Hynes & Jeremy Berkowitz, 1998. "Bankruptcy Exemptions and the Market for Mortgage Loans Journal of Law and Economic," Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers 98-17, Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania.
    12. van 't Veld, Klaas T. & Rausser, Gordon C. & Simon, Leo K., 2000. "Fitting the glass slipper: optimal capital structure in the face of liability," Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley, Working Paper Series qt5nb497vk, Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Berkeley.
    13. Kroszner, Randall S. & Strahan, Philip E., 2001. "Bankers on boards: *1: monitoring, conflicts of interest, and lender liability," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(3), pages 415-452, December.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G38 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • K12 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Contract Law
    • K22 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Business and Securities Law
    • G33 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Bankruptcy; Liquidation


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