Large–Sample Evidence on the Debt Covenant Hypothesis



We use Dealscan, a database of private corporate lending agreements, to provide large–sample tests of the debt covenant hypothesis. Dealscan offers several advantages over the data available in previous studies, principally larger and more representative samples and the availability of extensive actual covenant detail. These advantages allow us to construct powerful tests in which we find clear support for the debt covenant hypothesis. We also use these data to provide broad evidence on the economic role of debt covenants. We find that private lenders set debt covenants tightly and use them as “trip wires” for borrowers, that technical violations occur relatively often, and that violations are not necessarily associated with financial distress. Finally, since we measure covenant slack directly, we report evidence that the extensively–used leverage variable is a relatively noisy proxy for closeness to covenants.