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What are debt equivalents?

A debt equivalent is a debt-like financial obligation or claim resulting from the signing of a short or long-term contract. Credit-rating agencies use debt equivalents in their credit analysis. Two of the most common examples of debt equivalents are finance leases and PPAs. A PPA is a power purchase agreement, i.e. a contract between an entity that generates and sells electricity and one that is buying electricity.

A finance lease is considered a debt like claim because if the lessee company goes bust, the lessor could repossess the leased asset, or demand payment.

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Where are debt equivalents used?

As they are a source of finance, they are used in the Enterprise to Equity Value bridge:

Credit analysts and credit-rating agencies use debt equivalents (or debt equivalency) to describe the financial risk that is inherent in a fixed financial obligation that is not typically shown on the balance sheet. This is why debt equivalents are considered a separate category to net debt in the bridge above. Credit-rating agencies consider these obligations to have a similar risk to debt, as they could, through an event like bankruptcy, be converted into debt.

Other items include operating leases, which used to be off-balance sheet but after accounting rule changes are now likely to be seen on the balance sheet, and pension deficits (the amount that a company’s defined benefit pensions scheme is underfunded by).

For more information on the Enterprise to Equity value bridge see our blog on this subject.