Asset Liquidity, Debt Covenants, and Managerial Discretion in Financial Distress: The Collapse of L.A. Gear
36 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2001
Date Written: June 2001
A hot growth stock in the 1980s, L.A. Gear's equity fell from $1 billion in market value in 1989 to zero in 1998. For over six years as revenues declined precipitously, management tried a series of radical strategy shifts while subsidizing the firm's large losses through working-capital liquidations. The L.A. Gear case illustrates that asset liquidity (broadly construed, not limited to excess cash) can give managers substantial operating discretion during financial distress. It also shows (i) that debt covenants can be stronger disciplinary mechanisms than requirements to meet cash interest payments, (ii) why debt contracts typically constrain earnings instead of cash flow, (iii) why cash balances are not equivalent to negative debt, and (iv) why debt maturity matters. We find that many firms have highly liquid asset structures, thus their managers have the potential to subsidize losing operations should the need arise.
JEL Classification: D21, G31, G32, G33, G34, G35
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation