Debt contracts in the Presence of Performance Manipulation

Debt contracts in the Presence of Performance Manipulation

By
Ilan Guttman, Iván Marinovic
Review of Accounting Studies. September
2018, Vol. 23, Issue 3, Pages 1005-1104

Empirical evidence suggests that firms often manipulate reported numbers to avoid debt covenant violations. We study how a firm’s ability to manipulate reports affects the terms of its debt contracts and the resulting investment and manipulation decisions that the firm implements. Our model generates novel empirical predictions regarding the use and the level of debt covenant, the interest rate, the efficiency of investment decisions, and the likelihood of covenant violations. For example, the model predicts that the optimal debt contract for firms with relatively strong (weak) corporate governance (i.e., cost of manipulation) induces overinvestment (underinvestment). Moreover, for firms with strong (weak) corporate governance, an increase in corporate governance quality leads to tighter (looser) covenant, more (less) frequent covenant violations and lower (higher) interest rate. Our model highlights that the interest rate, which is a common proxy for the cost of debt, neither accounts for the distortion of investment efficiency nor the expected manipulation costs arising under debt financing. We propose a measure of cost of debt capital that accounts for these effects.