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Mezzanine capital, in finance, refers to a subordinated debt or preferred equity instrument that represents a claim on a company's assets which is senior only to that of the common shares. Mezzanine financings can be structured either as debt (typically an unsecured and subordinated note) or preferred stock.
Mezzanine capital is often a more expensive financing source for a company than secured debt or senior debt. The higher cost of capital associated with mezzanine financings is the result of it being an unsecured, subordinated (or junior) obligation in a company's capital structure (i.e., in the event of default, the mezzanine financing is only repaid after all senior obligations have been satisfied). Additionally, mezzanine financings, which are usually private placements, are often used by smaller companies and may involve greater overall levels of leverage than issues in the high-yield market; as such, they involve additional risk. In compensation for the increased risk, mezzanine debt holders require a higher return for their investment than secured or more senior lenders.
Mezzanine financings can be completed through a variety of different structures based on the specific objectives of the transaction and the existing capital structure in place at the company. The basic forms used in most mezzanine financings are subordinated notes and preferred stock. Mezzanine lenders, typically specialist mezzanine investment funds, look for a certain rate of return which can come from (each individual security can be made up of any of the following or a combination thereof):
Mezzanine lenders will also often charge an arrangement fee, payable upfront at the closing of the transaction. Arrangement fees contribute the least return and their purposes are primarily to cover administrative costs or as incentive to complete the transaction.
The following are illustrative examples of mezzanine financings:
In structuring a mezzanine security, the company and lender work together to avoid burdening the borrower with the full interest cost of such a loan. Because mezzanine lenders will seek a return of 14% to 20%, this return must be achieved through means other than simple cash interest payments. As a result, by using equity ownership and PIK interest, the mezzanine lender effectively defers its compensation until the due date of the security or a change of control of the company.
Mezzanine financings can be made at either the operating company level or at the level of a holding company (also known as structural subordination). In a holding company structure, as there are no operations and hence no cash flows, the structural subordination of the security and the reliance on cash dividends from the operating company introduces additional risk and typically higher cost. This approach is taken most often as a result of the company's existing capital structure.
In leveraged buyouts, mezzanine capital is used in conjunction with other securities to fund the purchase price of the company being acquired. Typically, mezzanine capital will be used to fill a financing gap between less expensive forms of financing (e.g., senior loans, second lien loan, high yield financings) and equity. Often, a financial sponsor will exhaust other sources of capital before turning to mezzanine capital.
Financial sponsors will seek to use mezzanine capital in a leveraged buyout in order to reduce the amount of the capital invested by the private equity firm; because mezzanine lenders typically have a lower target cost of capital than the private equity investor, using mezzanine capital can potentially enhance the private equity firm's investment returns. Additionally, middle market companies may be unable to access the high yield market due to high minimum size requirements, creating a need for flexible, private mezzanine capital.
In real estate finance, mezzanine loans are often used by developers to secure supplementary financing for development projects (typically in cases where the primary mortgage or construction loan equity requirements are larger than 10%). These sorts of mezzanine loans are often collateralized by the stock of the development company rather than the developed property itself (as would be the case with a traditional mortgage). This allows the lender to engage in a more rapid seizure of underlying collateral in the event of default and foreclosure. Standard mortgage foreclosure proceedings can take more than a year, whereas stock which is a personal asset of the borrower can be seized through a legal process taking only a few months.