Leveraged Finance

Using debt to increase equity returns

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What is Leveraged Finance?

Leveraged finance is the use of an above-normal amount of debt, as opposed to equity or cash, to finance the purchase of investment assets. Leveraged finance is done with the goal of increasing an investment’s potential returns, assuming the investment increases in value.

Private equity firms and leveraged buyout firms will employ as much leverage as possible to enhance their investment’s internal rate of return or IRR.

leveraged finance

The Effects of Leverage

The effective cost of debt is lower than equity (since debt holders are always paid out before equity holders; hence, it’s lower risk).

Leverage, however, will increase the volatility of a company’s earnings and cash flow, as well as the risk of lending to or owning said company. These risks will include factors such as (but not limited to) changes in the company’s liquidity, the stability of its industry, and shifts in the economy, such as interest rates.

Analysts need to understand a company’s use of leverage to assess its risk and return characteristics. Understanding leverage can also help in forecasting cash flows, allowing the selection of an appropriate discount rate for finding a firm’s present value.

Example of How Leveraged Finance Increases Returns

Here is a simple example of exactly how leveraged finance increases equity returns.

In the illustration below we show three examples:

  1. No Leverage – 100% equity-financed
  2. Moderate Leverage – 70% equity-financed (30% debt)
  3. High Leverage – 40% equity-financed (60% debt)

Notice how the internal rate of return to equity investors goes up over time as more leverage is added.  We made the assumption that all debt is amortized into equal payments over 5 years.

Leveraged Finance Template Screenshot

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Leveraged Finance Template

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What is Leveraged Finance at a Financial Institution?

Within an investment bank, a division in charge of leveraged finance is responsible for services related to a client’s leveraged buyouts. These services typically include structuring, managing, and advising on debt financing for acquisitions.

For example, if a private equity firm is exploring various financing options in its efforts to acquire another company, the leveraged finance division would present different types of debt the client firm might raise (bank debt, high-yield debt, syndicated loans, etc.). It would subsequently help the client firm determine the best option based on their capital structure and operations.

Once the firm has raised the debt, the leveraged finance department markets the offering(s) to debt investors, helping the firm raise the capital needed for their acquisition.

To learn more, explore CFI’s Interactive Career Map.

What Leveraged Finance Analysts Do

The job of a leveraged finance analyst is largely divided between analyzing credit and risk, structuring debt, and communicating with clients. Analysts are responsible for examining the credit profile of their clients and debt investors, analyzing the potential returns to their sponsors, as well as utilizing Excel models to determine the optimal capital structure, based on their client’s financial projections.

Career Outlook

There are many areas of expertise employed within leveraged finance divisions, namely deal originating, capital market research, asset/portfolio management, and the sales and trading of debt instruments. As leveraged finance divisions typically deal with less-established firms, this offers a variety of opportunities to connect and collaborate with private equity firms, which can be attractive to people who have interests and ambitions in private equity.

Additional Resources

We hope this is been a helpful guide to leveraged finance and how leverage increases equity returns (and increases the corresponding risk). To keep learning, explore these relevant CFI resources below:

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