The Changing Role of Accounting Numbers in Public Lending Agreements

Begley, Joy; Freedman, Ruth
June 2004
Accounting Horizons;Jun2004, Vol. 18 Issue 2, p81
Academic Journal
The use of accounting numbers in loan agreements is an important part of the demand for accounting information. We examine new public debt contracts from three time periods to investigate the changing role of accounting numbers in public lending agreements, noting a dramatic decline in the use of accounting numbers over the last quarter century. Accounting-based covenants restricting dividends and additional borrowing appear in less than 10 percent of the most recent sample of debt contracts examined. Moreover, accounting-based covenants included in recent public debt contracts tend to focus more on cash flow numbers and less on balance sheet measures of leverage than in the past. The evidence presented here suggests that recently executed public covenants provide little incentive for managers to manipulate accounting numbers. We also find a declining correlation between leverage and use of accounting-based debt covenants in public debt. This finding suggests that leverage may not be a good proxy for public debt covenant slack in accounting policy choice studies.


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