We investigate ex-ante efficient contracts in an environment in which implementation is costless. In this environment, standard debt contracts will typically not be optimal. Optimal contracts may involve defaults, even in states in which the borrower is fully able to repay. We then examine the welfare costs of arbitrarily restricting the set of feasible contracts to standard debt contracts. When model parameters are calibrated to realistic values, the welfare loss from exogenously imposing this restriction is extremely small. Thus, if the implementation costs are actually nontrivial (as seems likely), standard debt contracts will be (very close to) optimal.
This paper examines the seasonal pattern of accruals for loan-loss provisions and chargeoffs chosen by bank managers. Using the existing literature on intra-year discretionary accruals, knowledge of the incentive systems used to evaluate bank managers' performance, and various regulatory characteristics, we predict that accruals for provisions and chargeoffs will cluster in the fourth quarter of each year. We examine quarterly data for 105 large bank holding companies from the first quarter of 1980 through the fourth quarter of 1990. Our results indicate that: (1) provisions and chargeoffs are clustered in the fourth quarter, (2) this clustering is not related to the level of business activity of the banks, (3) the proximity of a bank's actual capital to its regulatory capital requirement does not affect this clustering, and (4) current provisions are affected both by current chargeoffs and by expectations about future chargeoffs. To examine whether the systematic characteristics of these loan-loss provision and chargeoff decisions are understood by users, we also estimate a quarterly equity valuation model in which quarterly provisions should be differentially weighted to reflect their seasonal characteristics. We find strong evidence to indicate that equity prices behave as if the market participants take these seasonal properties into account.