When Senior Debt is Not Senior Debt

Last Saturday a friend of ours took advantage of the spring-like weather, wading upstream from his house. Armed with his son’s $14.99 Shakespeare® Salamander rod, a can of worms, a six pack, and a cigar, he sat on a log, waiting for a nibble.

Three hours – and zero nibbles – later, a man in a motorboat put-putted up. “I’m with the environmental office,” he said, pulling out some ID. “Do you have a license to be fishing here?” he asked. My friend, laughed, incredulous. “You call this fishing?”

Similar challenges face capital market participants on what defines senior debt.

The traditional concept of senior debt refers to the layer of debt – historically 3-4 times Ebitda – that’s secured by the assets of the company and positioned at the top of the capital stack above other debt. That moderate senior leverage represents the amount of debt that can be substantially repaid during the life of the loan through a company’s free cash flow or can be comfortably repaid upon a sale of the company.

In those cases, the junior tranche was typically