Re-pricings of debt instruments have increased over the last year. Re-pricing involves resetting the interest rate of the debt instrument, with the holders either accepting the new terms or being redeemed. Re-pricings frequently affect offshore securitization vehicles, such as collateralized loan obligation and collateralized debt obligation issuers (which we refer to collectively in this Client Alert as “CLO issuers”), and may involve either debt issued by the CLO issuer or debt instruments held by the CLO issuer in its portfolio. Due to the tightening of spreads on notes issued by CLO issuers, the end of no-call periods for notes issued by CLO issuers in 2010 and 2011 and, often times, repricing being less cost-prohibitive than refinancing, re-pricing has become an appealing option for CLO issuers to reduce their debt load and enhance the return of equity holders.1 However, debt instruments in a CLO issuer’s portfolio may also be repriced leading to lower portfolio returns. This Client Alert describes certain tax issues presented by both types of re-pricings.

“DEEMED EXCHANGE” RULES

For instruments that are properly characterized as debt for U.S. federal income tax purposes, re-pricing could be considered a “deemed” exchange of the instrument for a “new” instrument leading to a potential taxable event for holders of the instrument (including holders that are not actually redeemed).

Under Treasury regulations, there is a two-step analysis to determine whether a deemed exchange of a debt instrument has occurred.2 First, one must determine whether the terms of the debt instrument have been “modified.” Second, one must determine whether the modification is a “significant modification.” A modification of the debt instrument can occur whether (1) the terms of the debt instrument are formally amended or (2) the debt instrument is actually exchanged for another instrument with different terms.+ In either case, the revised terms must be compared to the original terms.4 If a modification has occurred, the significance of that modification generally is evaluated under one of six tests: general facts and circumstances, change in yield, change in payment timing, change in obligor or security, change in the debt instrument’s nature, and/or change in accounting or financial covenants.5

Re-pricings generally will implicate the change in yield test. A change in yield is significant if the difference in yield between the unmodified and modified instrument is more than the greater of:

  1. ¼ of one percent, or
  2. 5 percent of the annual yield of the unmodified instrument.6

Importantly, the yield test takes into account not only explicit changes to the stated interest rate but also the effect on yield of other related payments such as consent fees. If the re-pricing causes a change in yield that is significant under this test, then the repricing would be viewed as causing an exchange of the unmodified instrument for the “new” modified instrument.

DEEMED EXCHANGE TAX CONSEQUENCES

A re-pricing that is a “deemed” exchange may require the holder to recognize gain or loss measured by the difference between the issue price of the modified instrument and the tax basis of the unmodified instrument, although the holder may not receive any actual cash, unless the exchange qualifies as a “recapitalization.”7 The deemed modified instrument may have original issue discount (“OID”), if the principal amount exceeds the “issue price” of the deemed modified instrument by more than a de minimis amount, or “amortizable bond premium,” if the “issue price” exceeds the principal amount. A deemed reissuance at a “discount” could also generate taxable cancellation of debt income (“CODI”) for a CLO issuer.

The issue price of the “new” modified instrument will be determined by whether the instrument is “publicly traded” for U.S. federal income tax purposes. If the instrument is publicly traded, the issue price is equal to the fair market value of the instrument. If neither the instrument received nor the property surrendered is publicly traded, the instrument received will have an issue price equal to the principal amount of the debt instrument if the instrument has adequate stated interest. In most cases, however, debt will be considered publicly traded under a test in recent regulations.

Re-pricings generally are designed to re-price the debt to a market yield. As a result, in most cases the re-priced debt will trade at close to par. Consequently, material OID, amortizable bond premium and CODI is unlikely in practice.

“U.S. TRADE OR BUSINESS” CONSIDERATIONS

Another consideration for CLO issuers is the effect of the re-pricing of a loan in its portfolio. As a result of a deemed exchange in a loan in its portfolio for a new loan, the CLO issuer might be viewed as having “originated” a new loan resulting in a risk that it could be deemed to be engaged in a U.S. trade or business and thus subject to U.S. net income tax. A deemed exchange for a new loan should not necessarily be considered equivalent to the making of a new loan for that purpose. Most counsel view this as a question highly dependent on the factual context of the related amendments and CLO issuers should consult their own tax advisers about this issue when faced with a repricing of a loan.

RE-PRICING AND FATCA

Re-pricing may subject a debt instrument to potential withholding under the recently enacted Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (colloquially known as “FATCA”). FATCA was implemented to detect and deter offshore tax abuses and requires increased transparency and reporting by non-US foreign financial institutions and non-US non-financial entities by requiring identification and disclosure of their U.S. account holders. Failure to provide the required information for U.S. account holders results in a 30% U.S. withholding tax with respect to (i) any payment of U.S. source income and (ii) proceeds from the sale of equity or debt instruments of U.S. issuers.8 The requirements of FATCA are currently being phased in with a multi-year process.

Debt instruments issued before January 1, 2014 are “grandfathered” and not subject to FATCA’s required transparency, enhanced reporting or withholding requirements.9 However, a re-pricing of a debt instrument on or after January 1, 2014 may result in a “new” instrument that is not grandfathered and therefore potentially subject to FATCA withholding. The ability of CLO issuers to comply with FATCA may therefore influence the decision of such issuers to consent to any re-pricing on or after January 1, 2014.

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Investors should be aware of these tax consequences of a re-pricing in determining whether to be redeemed in full or accept the new terms.