A call provision refers to a clause – essentially, an embedded option – in a bond purchase contract that gives the bond’s issuer the right to redeem the bond early, before its maturity date. Call provisions may also exist with preferred stock shares but are most commonly associated with bonds.
Call provisions are often included in corporate or municipal bonds, but government bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury do not carry call provisions.
Bonds with such provisions are referred to as callable bonds. Callable bonds usually offer higher yields than similar non-callable bonds to compensate investors for the risk of the bond being redeemed early, which will reduce the total amount of coupon payments (interest) that bondholders receive.
A call provision refers to a clause in a bond purchase contract that gives the bond’s issuer the right to redeem the bond early, before its maturity date.
Callable bonds usually pay a higher coupon rate than non-callable bonds.
Call provisions specify the conditions under which the bond issuer may exercise an early redemption option – the conditions are usually time-specific or event-specific.
How Call Provisions Work
If a bond issuer believes that it may want to redeem issued bonds before maturity, then it may choose to include a call provision in the bond contract (which is known as the bond indenture) that outlines all the details of a bond that an investor is purchasing, such as the maturity date and the coupon rate for the bond.
A call provision is an option, not an obligation. It does not mandate that the bond issuer redeem the bond early; it merely confers the option to do so.
If a call option is included with a bond, the bond indenture will outline the specific terms under which the issuer may call the bond. Call provisions are most commonly limited by time. That is, the bond issuer may only exercise its early redemption option after a certain period of time has passed since the bond’s original issue date.
However, some call provisions specify certain circumstances or events, rather than a time frame, that govern if and when a bond may be called. For example, a municipal bond issue might include a call provision stating that the bond issuer can call the bond if the project that the bond issue raised money for is unexpectedly canceled.
A time-limited call provision for a bond with a scheduled 20-year-maturity may grant the bond issuer the option to call the bond three years, five years, or 10 years after the original issue date. Thus, the bond could not be called until, at the earliest, three years after issue, nor could it be called in any of the years not specified by the call provision. Here, the bond could be called five years after its issue date, but not in years six, seven, eight, or nine.
A call provision may grant the bond issuer the right to the early redemption of an entire bond issue or the right to redeem only a portion of the bonds issued.
When a bond is called, the bondholder receives the return of their invested principal and all interest payments due up to that time. Also, the terms of the call provision may require that the bond issuer pay the bondholder an additional premium upon early redemption of the bond.
Purpose of Call Provisions
Since including a call provision typically requires the bond issuer to pay bondholders a higher coupon rate, you might ask what prompts issuers to include provisions for early bond redemption.
The most common motivation for an issuer, including an early redemption option with a bond issue, is to be in a position to take advantage if prevailing interest rates decline significantly during the life of the bond.
In such a situation, the bond issuer can redeem its outstanding bonds early and then issue new bonds with a lower coupon rate, one that reflects the change in the interest rate market. The issuer can thereby borrow money at a lower interest rate.
Of course, should interest rates rise significantly after a bond issue, then the issuer has little cause to pursue its right of early redemption, as it is benefitting from paying a coupon rate on the bonds that is lower than prevailing interest rates.
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