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Credit Risk -- Fundamental Analysis

Credit risk is the risk of loss due to a debtor's non-payment of a loan or other line of credit (either the principal or interest (coupon) or both).

Faced by lenders to consumers

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 vice versa. With revolving products such as credit cards and overdrafts, risk is controlled through careful setting of credit limits. Some products also require security, most commonly in the form of property.

Faced by lenders to business

Lenders will trade off the cost/benefits of a loan according to its risks and the interest charged. But interest rates are not the only method to compensate for risk. Protective covenants are written into loan agreements that allow the lender some controls. These covenants may:

  • limit the borrower's ability to weaken his balance sheet voluntarily e.g., by buying back shares, or paying dividends, or borrowing further.
  • allow for monitoring the debt requiring audits, and monthly reports
  • allow the lender to decide when he can recall the loan based on specific events or when financial ratios like debt/equity, or interest coverage deteriorate.

A recent innovation to protect lenders and bond holders from the danger of default are credit derivatives, most commonly in the form of a credit default swap. These financial contracts allow companies to buy protection against defaults from a third party, the protection seller. The protection seller receives a periodic fee (the credit spread) as compensation for the risk it takes, and in return it agrees to buy the debt should a credit event ("default") occur.

Faced by business

Companies carry credit risk when, for example, they do not demand up-front cash payment for products or services.[1] By delivering the product or service first and billing the customer later - if it's a business customer the terms may be quoted as net 30 - the company is carrying a risk between the delivery and payment.

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 Moody's and Dun and Bradstreet provide such information for a fee.

For example, a distributor selling its products to a troubled retailer may attempt to lessen credit risk by tightening payment terms to "net 15", or by actually selling fewer products on credit to the retailer, or even cutting off credit entirely, and demanding payment in advance. Such strategies impact sales volume but reduce exposure to credit risk and subsequent payment defaults.

Credit risk is not really manageable for very small companies (i.e., those with only one or two customers). This makes these companies very vulnerable to defaults, or even payment delays by their customers.

The use of a collection agency is not really a tool to manage credit risk; rather, it is an extreme measure closer to a write down in that the creditor expects a below-agreed return after the collection agency takes its share (if it is able to get anything at all).

Faced by individuals

Consumers may face credit risk in a direct form as depositors at banks or as investors/lenders. They may also face credit risk when entering into standard commercial transactions by providing a deposit to their counterparty, e.g. for a large purchase or a real estate rental. Employees of any firm also depend on the firm's ability to pay wages, and are exposed to the credit risk of their employer.

In some cases, governments recognize that an individual's capacity to evaluate credit risk may be limited, and the risk may reduce economic efficiency; governments may enact various legal measures or mechanisms with the intention of protecting consumers against some of these risks. Bank deposits, notably, are insured in many countries (to some maximum amount) for individuals, effectively limiting their credit risk to banks and increasing their willingness to use the banking system.


  1. Principles for the management of credit risk from the Bank for International Settlement
  • Bluhm, Christian, Ludger Overbeck, and Christoph Wagner (2002). An Introduction to Credit Risk Modeling. Chapman & Hall/CRC. ISBN13 978-1584883265. 
  • de Servigny, Arnaud and Olivier Renault (2004). The Standard & Poor's Guide to Measuring and Managing Credit Risk. McGraw-Hill. ISBN13 978-0071417556. 
  • Darrell Duffie and Kenneth J. Singleton (2003). Credit Risk: Pricing, Measurement, and Management. Princeton University Press. ISBN13 978-0691090467. 

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