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Bond covenants: The secret handshake between borrowers and lenders

Imagine you’re lending a friend some money. You wouldn’t just hand them the cash and hope for the best, right? You’d probably set some ground rules, like how they’ll pay you back and what happens if they can’t. 

Bonds work kind of like that but on a much bigger scale. Companies and governments borrow money from investors by issuing bonds, and just like your friend, they need to follow certain rules. These rules are called bond covenants. 

Why are bond covenants important? 

Think of them as the secret handshake between borrowers and lenders. They protect both parties:

  • For investors: Covenants reduce the risk of losing their money. They ensure the borrower (the issuer) stays financially healthy and able to repay the debt. 
  • For issuers: Covenants can actually make borrowing cheaper. Investors are more likely to lend money at lower interest rates if they know their investment is protected. 

What are the different types of bond covenants? 

There are two main types: 

  • Negative covenants: These are like “don’ts.” They restrict the issuer from taking certain actions that could hurt their financial stability, like taking on too much debt or paying out big dividends to shareholders. 
  • Positive covenants: These are like “dos.” They require the issuer to do certain things, like maintain a minimum level of cash reserves or provide regular financial reports to investors. 

What should you look for in bond covenants? 

As an investor, understanding the covenants is crucial before buying a bond. Here are some key things to consider: 

  • Financial ratios: These ratios measure the issuer’s financial health, such as their debt-to-equity ratio or interest coverage ratio. Look for covenants that maintain these ratios within healthy ranges. 
  • Restrictions on additional debt: Covenants may limit how much more debt the issuer can take on. This helps prevent them from becoming overleveraged and at risk of default. 
  • Events of default: These are specific actions that trigger a default on the bond, such as missing a payment or violating a major covenant. Understanding these events helps you know the worst-case scenario.

Check: India’s Bond Market: Attracting Global Investors


Bond covenants are complex, and it’s always best to consult a financial advisor before making any investment decisions. But by understanding the basics, you can be a more informed investor and make smarter choices about the bonds you buy. 

Bonus tip: Want to get a real feel for bond covenants? Check out the bond indenture, which is the legal document that spells out all the terms and conditions of the bond issue. It’s like the fine print, but for bonds!

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