Subordinated debt

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In finance, subordinated debt (also known as subordinated loan, subordinated bond, subordinated debenture or junior debt) is debt which ranks after other debts if a company falls into liquidation or bankruptcy.

Finance academic discipline studying businesses and investments

Finance is a field that is concerned with the allocation (investment) of assets and liabilities over space and time, often under conditions of risk or uncertainty. Finance can also be defined as the art of money management. Participants in the market aim to price assets based on their risk level, fundamental value, and their expected rate of return. Finance can be split into three sub-categories: public finance, corporate finance and personal finance.

Liquidation is the process in law and business by which a company is brought to an end in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and United States. The assets and property of the company are redistributed. Liquidation is also sometimes referred to as winding-up or dissolution, although dissolution technically refers to the last stage of liquidation. The process of liquidation also arises when customs, an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties, determines the final computation or ascertainment of the duties or drawback accruing on an entry.

Bankruptcy legal status of a person or other entity that cannot repay the debts it owes to creditors

Bankruptcy is a legal status of a person or other entity who cannot repay debts to creditors. In most jurisdictions, bankruptcy is imposed by a court order, often initiated by the debtor.


Such debt is referred to as 'subordinate', because the debt providers (the lenders) have subordinate status in relationship to the normal debt.

Subordinated debt has a lower priority than other bonds of the issuer in case of liquidation during bankruptcy, and ranks below: the liquidator, government tax authorities and senior debt holders in the hierarchy of creditors. Debt instruments with the lowest seniority are known as subordinated debt instruments. [1] [2]

In law, a liquidator is the officer appointed when a company goes into winding-up or liquidation who has responsibility for collecting in all of the assets under such circumstances of the company and settling all claims against the company before putting the company into dissolution.

Because subordinated debts are only repayable after other debts have been paid, they are more risky for the lender of the money. The debts may be secured or unsecured. Subordinated loans typically have a lower credit rating, and, therefore, a higher yield than senior debt.

A credit rating is an evaluation of the credit risk of a prospective debtor, predicting their ability to pay back the debt, and an implicit forecast of the likelihood of the debtor defaulting. The credit rating represents an evaluation of a credit rating agency of the qualitative and quantitative information for the prospective debtor, including information provided by the prospective debtor and other non-public information obtained by the credit rating agency's analysts.

Yield (finance) financial

In finance, the yield on a security is the amount of cash that returns to the owners of the security, in the form of interest or dividends received from it. Normally, it does not include the price variations, distinguishing it from the total return. Yield applies to various stated rates of return on stocks, fixed income instruments, and some other investment type insurance products.

A typical example for this would be when a promoter of a company invests money in the form of debt rather than in the form of stock. In the case of liquidation (e.g. the company winds up its affairs and dissolves), the promoter would be paid just before stockholders — assuming there are assets to distribute after all other liabilities and debts have been paid.

While subordinated debt may be issued in a public offering, major shareholders and parent companies are more frequent buyers of subordinated loans. These entities may prefer to inject capital in the form of debt, but, due to the close relationship to the issuing company, they may be more willing to accept a lower rate of return on subordinated debt than general investors would.

A shareholder is an individual or institution, including a corporation,that legally owns one or more shares of stock in a public or private corporation. Shareholders may be referred to as members of a corporation. Legally, a person is not a shareholder in a corporation until their name and other details are entered in the corporation‘s register of shareholders or members. A beneficial shareholder is the person that has the economic benefit of ownership of the shares, while a nominee shareholder is the person who is on the corporation’s register as the owner while being in fact acting for the benefit and at the direction of the beneficiary, whether disclosed or not.

A parent company is a company that owns enough voting stock in another firm to control management and operation by influencing or electing its board of directors. The company is deemed a subsidiary of the parent company.


A particularly important example of subordinated bonds can be found in bonds issued by banks. Subordinated debt is issued periodically by most large banking corporations in the U.S. Subordinated debt can be expected to be especially risk-sensitive because subordinated debt holders have claims on bank assets only after senior debtholders and they lack the upside gain enjoyed by shareholders.

Risk is the possibility of losing something of value. Values can be gained or lost when taking risk resulting from a given action or inaction, foreseen or unforeseen. Risk can also be defined as the intentional interaction with uncertainty. Uncertainty is a potential, unpredictable, and uncontrollable outcome; risk is a consequence of action taken in spite of uncertainty.

This status of subordinated debt makes it perfect for experimenting with the significance of market discipline, via the signalling effect of secondary market prices of subordinated debt (and, where relevant, the issue price of these bonds initially in the primary markets).

Buyers and sellers in a market are said to be constrained by market discipline in setting prices because they have strong incentives to generate revenues and avoid bankruptcy. This means, in order to meet economic necessity, buyers must avoid prices that will drive them into bankruptcy and sellers must find prices that will generate revenue.

From the perspective of policy-makers and regulators, the potential benefit from having banks issue subordinated debt is that the markets and their information-generating capabilities are enrolled in the "supervision" of the financial condition of the banks. This, hopefully, creates both an early-warning system, like the so-called "canary in the mine", and, also hopefully, an incentive for bank management to act prudently, thus helping to offset the moral hazard that can otherwise exist, especially in a circumstance where banks have limited equity and deposits are insured. This role of subordinated debt has attracted increasing attention from policy analysts in recent years. [3]

For a second example of subordinated debt, consider asset-backed securities. These are often issued in tranches. The senior tranches get paid back first; the subordinated tranches later.

A third example is mezzanine debt.


Subordinated bonds are regularly issued (as mentioned earlier) as part of the securitization of debt, such as in the issue of asset-backed securities, collateralized mortgage obligations or collateralized debt obligations. Corporate issuers tend to prefer not to issue subordinated bonds because of the higher interest rate required to compensate for the higher risk, but may be forced to do so if indentures on earlier issues mandate their status as senior bonds.

Also, subordinated debt may be combined with preferred stock to create so-called monthly income preferred stock, a hybrid security paying dividends for the lender and funded as interest expense by the issuer.

See also

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  1. Grant, Tim (27 February 2013). "Subordinated Debt Instruments". Opposite Views.
  2. "Subordinated Debt". Investopedia.
  3. See, e.g., "Subordinated debt: a capital markets approach to bank regulation." Mark E. Van Der Weide and Satish M. Kini. Boston College Law Review. Volume 41, number 2. March 2000.