Elements of Corporate Risk (Third of a Series)

Last week’s column attracted the attention of one of our most loyal readers, and an astute observer of the credit scene. To go along with capex and cyclicality as prime corporate risks, he told us, “I would like to put in a plug for ‘Where’s the cash?’”

He continued, “Maybe in middle market companies it’s not as significant, but we’ve been tripped up by intercompany cash management agreements. These (ironically) put all the cash at a holdco, when we were humming along thinking the opco lending was solid. Or the cash gets trapped in foreign subs.” Excellent safety tip!

Let’s now turn our attention to three of the most common worries of lenders when it comes to corporate risk.

Short borrower history – This relates to our discussion last week regarding cyclicality. How comfortable can you be with the creditworthiness of a company that’s only been around since 2014? That’s never been through a business cycle?

A related concern is hockey-stick growth. The market seems crowded at the moment with consumer businesses that have enjoyed a brisk run-up in revenues over the past couple years. Often assisted by social media tailwinds driving sales and marketing, these companies rocket from single-digit to $50 million in cash flows. But is this growth sustainable?

Apparel, health and beauty products, hatched from the fertile minds of ingenious entrepreneurs, may catch on quickly with the consumer, particularly millennials. But are they fads?