WHEN the financial crisis was at its height in 2008, being a debtor was a dreadful experience. Banks and companies scrambled desperately to get the financing they needed.

But the balance of power in the financial markets can easily shift. In 2005 and 2006, credit had been easy to get on generous terms. Not only were loans cheap and plentiful; they also suffered from fewer restrictions. Until then, corporate loans had many covenants offering safeguards for lenders if the debtor’s financial position were to deteriorate. But 2005-06 saw the emergence of “covenant-lite” loans in which such restrictions were virtually non-existent.

The cycle has turned again. Analysis by Moody’s, a ratings agency, shows that the proportion of the loan market that is “covenant-lite” has risen from 27% in 2015 to more than two-thirds in the first quarter of this year (see chart). Some loans even contain restrictions on the lender, not just the borrower. Private-equity firms demand a veto over...Continue reading