Credit Check

June 18, 2024 | Chad Sheaffer, CFA, CAIA, Senior Research Analyst

Interest in private credit has grown considerably in recent years and the asset class has moved from a relatively small or non-existent allocation in institutional portfolios to a multi-trillion dollar market accessed by a wide variety of investors. Demand for private credit remains high, but the rapid growth of this space has sparked debates about potential bubbles and whether underwriting standards have diminished given intense competition among lenders. However, recent survey results indicate that underwriting standards may actually be more conservative today than in prior years, highlighting increased caution with regard to both borrower leverage and required levels of equity within borrower capital structures.

Based on a survey conducted by Proskauer capturing responses from 178 senior-level private credit executives, lenders have reduced the maximum level of leverage they are willing to underwrite in private credit deals in recent years. In 2021, more than 68% of lenders to U.S. corporate borrowers were willing to underwrite deals with more than 6.0x leverage, as measured by borrower debt-to-EBITDA. That figure increased to over 82% of U.S. lenders in 2022 but has since fallen sharply, with now just 45% of lenders willing to underwrite highly leveraged deals. Today, more than 55% of private credit lenders cap deal-level leverage at 6.0x, indicating a shift towards more cautious standards in the current interest rate environment. At the same time, borrowers are now requiring more subordinated equity exposure in the deals they underwrite. Deal equity, often provided by private equity sponsors, represents the amount of equity subordination in a borrower’s capital structure and offers a degree of downside protection for the lender if stress arises for the borrower. In 2021 and 2022, those lenders requiring less than 35% equity in deals represented 18% and 22% of Proskauer survey respondents, respectively. However, the proportion of lenders willing to lend with less than 35% deal equity fell to 13% in 2023 and currently sits at approximately 12%. Conversely, lenders requiring at least 45% equity in deals increased from 25% to 55% over the last three years, again highlighting the trend towards more conservative deal structures.

In summary, given elevated interest rates, lenders are prudently reducing the amount of leverage they are willing to support for corporate borrowers and are also requiring more deal equity. These efforts are largely aimed at enhanced downside protection and reflect increased caution among lenders in response to broader economic conditions. At the asset class level, private credit remains an attractive opportunity set for investors, offering attractive yields, portfolio diversification, and downside protection.

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Chad Sheaffer, CFA, CAIA
Senior Research Analyst

Get to Know Chad

The opinions expressed herein are those of Marquette Associates, Inc. (“Marquette”), and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to purchase or sell any product. Marquette reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs.

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