Bonds Payable


Bonds payable result when a borrower splits a large loan into many small units. Each of these units (or bonds) is essentially a note payable. Investors will buy these bonds, effectively making a loan to the issuing company. Bonds were introduced, from an investor’s perspective, in Chapter 9.

The terms of a bond issue are specified in a bond indenture. In addition to making representations about the interest payments and life of the bond, the indenture may also address questions such as:

  • Are the bonds secured by specific assets pledged as collateral to insure payment? If not, the bonds are said to be debenture bonds, meaning they do not have specific collateral but are only as good as the general faith and credit of the issuer.
  • What is the preference in liquidation in the event of failure? Agreements may provide that some bonds are paid before others.
  • Registered imageTo whom and when is interest paid? In the past, some bonds were coupon bonds, and those bonds literally had detachable interest coupons that could be stripped off and cashed in on specific dates. One reason for coupon bonds was to ease the record keeping burden on bond issuers. Companies merely issued coupons that were turned in for redemption.However, in recent times, most bonds are registered to an owner. Computerized information systems now facilitate tracking bond owners, and interest payments are commonly transmitted electronically to the registered owner. Registered bonds are in contrast to bearer bonds, where the holder of the physical bond instrument is deemed to be the owner (bearer bonds are rare in today’s economy).
  • Must the company maintain a required sinking fund? A sinking fund bond may sound bad, but it is actually not. In the context of bonds, a sinking fund is a required account into which monies are periodically transferred to insure that funds will be available at maturity to satisfy the bond obligation.
  • Some companies will issue serial bonds. Rather than the entire issue maturing at once, portions of the serial issue will mature on select dates spread over time.
  • Stocks and Bonds imageCan the bond be converted into stock? Convertible bonds enable the holder to exchange the bond for a predefined number of shares of corporate stock. The holder may plan to be paid the interest plus face amount of the bond, but if the company’s stock explodes upward in value, the holder may benefit by trading the bonds for appreciated stock.Why would a company issue convertibles? First, investors may prefer these securities and are usually willing to accept lower interest rates than must be paid on bonds that are not convertible. Another factor is that the company may contemplate its stock going up; by initially borrowing money and later exchanging the debt for stock, the company may actually get more money for its stock than it would have had it issued the stock on the earlier date.
  • Callable stock imageIs the company able to call the debt? Callable bonds provide a company with the option of buying back the debt at a prearranged price before its scheduled maturity. If interest rates go down, the company may not want to be saddled with the higher cost obligations and can escape the obligation by calling the debt.Sometimes, bonds cannot be called. For example, suppose a company is in financial distress and issues high interest rate debt (known as junk bonds) to investors who are willing to take a chance to bail out the company. If the company is able to manage a turn-around, the investors who took the risk and bought the bonds don’t want to have their “high yield” stripped away with an early payoff before scheduled maturity.
  • Bonds that cannot be paid off earlier are sometimes called nonredeemable. Be careful not to confuse nonredeemable with nonrefundable. Nonrefundable bonds can be paid off early, so long as the payoff money is generated from business operations rather than an alternative borrowing arrangement. Some specialized securities may be legally structured as equity instruments, but nonetheless possess mandatory redemption features. These attributes make the securities more like long-term debt, and the accounting should mirror this economic substance.Note that convertible bonds will almost always be callable, enabling the company to force a bond holder to either cash out or convert. The company will reserve this call privilege because they will want to stop paying interest (by forcing the holder out of the debt) once the stock has gone up enough to know that a conversion is inevitable.

Bonds are potentially complex financial instruments. Who enforces all of the requirements for a company’s bond issue? Within the bond indenture agreement should be a specified bond trustee. This trustee may be an investment company, law firm, or other independent party. The trustee is to monitor compliance with the terms of the agreement and has a fiduciary duty to intervene to protect the investor group if the company runs afoul of its covenants.


Did you learn?
Describe the basic characteristics of a bond.
Review and understand bond terminology.
Identify the different types of bonds and their key features.