Report of the Model First Lien/Second Lien Intercreditor Agreement Task Force

183 Min Read By: Committee on Commercial Finance

This is the Report of the Model First Lien/Second Lien Intercreditor Agreement Task Force (“Task Force”) established by the Commercial Finance Committee of the Business Law Section of the American Bar Association. This Report will first review the reasons for the creation of the Task Force, its goals, and its methodology. It will then introduce and examine each major provision of the Model Agreement, exploring its purpose, perceived market practice, and the perspectives of first and second lien creditors. Where appropriate, the Report will present alternative provisions and views.

CREATION OF THE TASK FORCE

Intercreditor agreements are used in a variety of financing transactions to establish the respective rights and remedies of two or more creditors in credit facilities provided to a common borrower. Intercreditor agreements are not standardized, and their scope varies widely. Intercreditor agreements may include payment subordination provisions, payment standstill terms, and other creditor rights and remedies that do not involve collateral. Such payment subordination arrangements are typically found in unsecured mezzanine financing, for example. In secured financing transactions, however, the intercreditor agreement may also govern the relative rights and priorities of each creditor’s liens in the borrower’s assets, and it is here that the Task Force has concentrated its efforts.

The past five to eight years have witnessed an increase in the use of “second lien” structures in institutional senior secured syndicated financing transactions. These structures involve a “first lien” loan secured by a first priority lien in substantially all of the assets of the borrower, and a separate pari passu “second lien” loan, typically provided by a separate lender group, secured by a second priority lien in the same collateral. Second lien structures have enjoyed increased popularity in recent years because of the increased liquidity provided by second lien lenders that might not have provided financing on an unsecured basis, and because of the relatively narrow interest rate spreads available in the second lien market before the financial crisis in the latter half of 2008.

Until the financial crisis, the second lien market had grown rapidly. According to the Loan Pricing Corporation, the dollar volume of second lien loans grew from approximately $8 billion in 2003 to over $29 billion in 2006.1 In the second quarter of 2007, second lien loans reached $15.21 billion, the highest quarter recorded for second lien issuance.2 Like other forms of leveraged finance, second lien financing fell sharply with the 2008 credit crisis. By the second quarter of 2009, second lien issuance was under $300 million.3

Second lien structures also migrated to the middle market, and to asset-based loans, where second lien structures became common. A typical structure is for a revolving lender to hold a first lien in all accounts, inventory, and other current assets while a term lender holds a first lien in equipment, real estate, and other fixed assets, with each lender also holding a second lien in the other’s primary collateral. Variations of such “wrap” structures have become increasingly creative.

As the second lien market grew, counsel to first lien lenders drafted various forms of substantially similar first lien/second lien intercreditor agreements. In the early years of the second lien market, the second lien lender generally subordinated virtually all of its rights as a secured creditor to the rights of the first lien creditor until the first lien creditor was paid in full—a so-called “silent second.” Surprisingly, there was little published guidance on the issues that counsel should consider in drafting or reviewing an intercreditor agreement, and participants relied heavily on “market practice.” It gradually became apparent, however, that the market had only a limited experience of the effect of these provisions following a default by the borrower or the initiation of a bankruptcy proceeding.

Although second lien transactions are structured in myriad ...

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