Assessing Credit Risk

Assessing Credit Risk

Significant resources and sophisticated programs are used to analyze and manage risk. Some companies run a credit risk department whose job is to assess the financial health of their customers, and extend credit (or not) accordingly. They may use in house programs to advise on avoiding, reducing and transferring risk. They also use third party provided intelligence. Companies like Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Analytics, Fitch Ratings, and Dun and Bradstreet provide such information for a fee.

Most lenders employ their own models (credit scorecards) to rank potential and existing customers according to risk, and then apply appropriate strategies. With products such as unsecured personal loans or mortgages, lenders charge a higher price for higher risk customers and the other way around. With revolving products such as credit cards and overdrafts, risk is controlled through the setting of credit limits. Some products also require security, most commonly in the form of property.

Credit scoring models also form part of the risk framework used by banks or lending institutions grant credit to clients. For corporate and commercial borrowers, these models generally have qualitative and quantitative sections outlining various aspects of the risk including, but not limited to, operating experience, management expertise, asset quality, and leverage and liquidity ratios, respectively. Once this information has been fully reviewed by credit officers and credit committees, the lender provides the funds subject to the terms and conditions presented within the contract.

Credit risk has been shown to be particularly large and particularly damaging for very large investment projects, so-called mega projects. This is because such projects are especially prone to end up in what has been called the “debt trap,” i.e., a situation where – due to cost overruns, schedule delays, etc. – the costs of servicing debt becomes larger than the revenues available to pay interest on and bring down the debt.

Sovereign Risk
Sovereign risk is the risk of a government becoming unwilling or unable to meet its loan obligations, or reneging on loans it guarantees. Many countries have faced sovereign risk in the late-2000s global recession. The existence of such risk means that creditors should take a two-stage decision process when deciding to lend to a firm based in a foreign country. Firstly one should consider the sovereign risk quality of the country and then consider the firm’s credit quality.

Five macroeconomic variables that affect the probability of sovereign debt rescheduling are:

  • Debt service ratio
  • Import ratio
  • Investment ratio
  • Variance of export revenue
  • Domestic money supply growth

The probability of rescheduling is an increasing function of debt service ratio, import ratio, variance of export revenue and domestic money supply growth. Frenkel, Karmann and Scholtens also argue that the likelihood of rescheduling is a decreasing function of investment ratio due to future economic productivity gains. Saunders argues that rescheduling can become more likely if the investment ratio rises as the foreign country could become less dependent on its external creditors and so be less concerned about receiving credit from these countries/investors.

Counterparty Risk
Counterparty risk, known as default risk, is the risk that an organization does not pay out on a bond, credit derivative, trade credit insurance or payment protection insurance contract, or other trade or transaction when it is supposed to. Even organizations who think that they have hedged their bets by buying credit insurance of some sort still face the risk that the insurer will be unable to pay, either due to temporary liquidity issues or longer term systemic issues.

Large insurers are counterparties to many transactions, and thus this is the kind of risk that prompts financial regulators to act.