Why Mezzanine Matters

It’s popular sport at loan conferences to kick the mezzanine asset class. After the credit crisis, when some investors in sub debt took a licking, the common theme heard among market players was, “Is Mezz Dead?” Today the refrain is “Is Mezz Still Dead? And yet, in conversations with practitioners, it seems mezz is alive and well.

The cause for concern is clear: unsecured credit took the brunt of lower valuations and dented cash flows during the Great Recession. Since then, financing tools such as second lien and unitranche have taken share from mezz; they provide lower cost, prepayable alternatives.

But both anecdotal and empirical evidence suggest that traditional mezzanine arrangers have been active. According to Thomson Reuters, almost $3 billion in sub debt has been deployed so far this year. Private equity sponsors say mezz offers “patient capital,” a critical virtue in uncertain times. Mezzanine also requires no amortization, and has looser financial covenants than senior secured.

Since it is unsecured and subordinated, senior secured loan buyers prefer to have mezz rather than second lien below them in capital structures. In the event the borrower needs to conserve cash, sub debt interest payments can be turned off.