Operating Leases and Credit Assessments

45 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2008 Last revised: 15 Nov 2012

See all articles by Jennifer Lynne M. Altamuro

Jennifer Lynne M. Altamuro

Villanova University - Accountancy

Rick Johnston

Rice University - Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business

Shail Pandit

University of Illinois at Chicago

Haiwen Zhang

University of Minnesota

Date Written: November 14, 2012


Operating leases have grown significantly as a source of corporate financing over the last 30 years. Their off-balance sheet treatment, which may in part explain their popularity, raises concern that financial risk may be misjudged and capital misallocated. Prior research evidence on the above issue is mixed. To improve reporting transparency, regulators propose a new accounting concept, right of use, which will add the present value of most leases to the balance sheet. We examine the effect of operating leases on loan pricing by banks, a sophisticated financial statement user. Since leases are a potential debt substitute, we expect them to be important in our setting. With loan spreads as the dependent variable, we test the differential explanatory power and model fit of as-reported financial ratios versus financial ratios adjusted for the capitalization of operating leases. We find that lease-adjusted financial ratios better explain loan spreads, especially for larger lenders. Our results also suggest that retailer leases that are closer in substance to rental agreements than financed asset purchases are less relevant for credit risk assessments. Thus we conclude that banks not only price operating leases, on average, but also make distinctions about which leases should be priced. Second, we explore the role of credit rating agencies and confirm that credit ratings also reflect capitalized operating leases, and find support for an informational role for others’ credit assessments. However, unlike banks, rating agencies appear to capitalize all operating leases mechanically. Overall, our results suggest that banks and rating agencies adjust for the off-balance sheet presentation of operating leases and, at least in the case of banks, attempt to do so to reflect the underlying economics of the leases. This evidence lessens concern over the potential negative consequences of existing operating lease accounting and raises concern over proposed accounting that capitalizes all leases regardless of their economic characteristics.

Keywords: off-balance sheet, leases, credit risk, credit ratings, banks

JEL Classification: G21, G21, G33, M41, M43

Suggested Citation

Altamuro, Jennifer Lynne M. and Johnston, Rick M. and Pandit, Shailendra and Zhang, Haiwen, Operating Leases and Credit Assessments (November 14, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1115924 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1115924

Jennifer Lynne M. Altamuro

Villanova University - Accountancy ( email )

United States

Rick M. Johnston (Contact Author)

Rice University - Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business ( email )

6100 South Main Street
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, TX 77005-1892
United States

Shailendra Pandit

University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

601 South Morgan Street
University Hall, Room 2303
Chicago, IL 60607
United States
(312) 355-1331 (Phone)
(312) 996-4520 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://business.uic.edu/faculty/shailendra-shail-pandit

Haiwen Zhang

University of Minnesota ( email )

3-122 Carlson School of Management
321-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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