Corporations often raise money through debt. This can be done through loans or bank financing but is often accomplished through the sale of bonds. Large corporations, in particular, use the bond market. Private equity is not ideal for established firms because of the high cost to them, both monetarily and in terms of the potential loss of control.
For financing, many corporations sell corporate bonds to investors. A bond is like an IOU. When a corporation sells a bond, it owes the bond purchaser periodic interest payments as well as a lump sum at the end of the life of the bond (the maturity date). A typical bond is issued with a face value, also called the par value, of $1,000 or some multiple of $1,000. The face valueThe amount that a corporation pays a bondholder at the bond’s maturity. is the amount that the corporation must pay the purchaser at the end of the life of the bond. Interest payments, also called coupon paymentsThe interest payment made by a corporation to the holder of a bond., are usually made on a biannual basis but could be of nearly any duration. There are even zero coupon bonds, which pay only the face value at maturity.
One advantage of issuing bonds is that the corporation does not give away ownership interests. When a corporation sells stock, it changes the ownership interest in the firm, but bonds do not alter the ownership structure. Bonds provide flexibility for a corporation: it can issue bonds of varying durations, value, payment terms, convertibility, and so on. Bonds also expand the number of investors available to the corporation. From an investor standpoint, bonds are generally less risky than stock. Most corporate bonds are given ratings—a measurement of the risk associated with holding a particular bond. Therefore, risk-averse investors who would not purchase a corporation’s stock could seek lower-risk returns in highly rated corporate bonds. Investors are also drawn to bonds because the bond market is much larger than the stock market and bonds are highly liquid and less risky than many other types of investments.
Another advantage to the corporation is the ability to make bonds “callable”—the corporation can force the investor to sell bonds back to the corporation before the maturity date. Often, there is an additional cost to the corporation (a call premium) that must be paid to the bondholder, but the call provision provides another level of flexibility for the corporation. Bonds may also be convertible; the corporation can include a provision that permits bondholders to convert their bonds into equity shares in the firm. This would permit the corporation to decrease the cost of the bonds, because bondholders would ordinarily accept lower coupon payments in exchange for the option to convert the bonds into equity. Perhaps the most important advantage to issuing bonds is from a taxation standpoint: the interest payments made to the bondholders may be deductible from the corporation’s taxes.
A key disadvantage of bonds is that they are debt. The corporation must make its bond interest payments. If a corporation cannot make its interest payments, the bondholders can force it into bankruptcy. In bankruptcy, the bondholders have a liquidation preference over investors with ownership—that is, the shareholders. Additionally, being highly leveraged can be risky: a corporation could load itself up with too much debt and not be able to make its interest payments or face-value payments. Another major consideration is the “cost” of debt. When interest rates are high, corporations must offer higher interest rates to attract investors.
Corporations often raise capital and finance operations through debt. Bank loans are one source of debt, but large corporations often turn to bonds for financing. Bonds are an IOU, whereby the corporation sells a bond to an investor; agrees to make periodic interest payments, such as 5 percent of the face value of the bond annually; and at the maturity date, pays the face value of the bond to the investor. There are several advantages to the corporation in using bonds as a financial instrument: the corporation does not give up ownership in the firm, it attracts more investors, it increases its flexibility, and it can deduct the interest payments from corporate taxes. Bonds do have some disadvantages: they are debt and can hurt a highly leveraged company, the corporation must pay the interest and principal when they are due, and the bondholders have a preference over shareholders upon liquidation.