Jan 29, 2024 - Economy

Another sign of investor optimism: Dividend recaps are back

Dividend recapitalization deals financed in the U.S. leveraged loan market
Data: PitchBook LCD; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

You know the market has officially shaken off its doldrums when dividend recaps are back.

Catch up fast: A dividend recapitalization is what it's called when companies issue debt and use some of the proceeds to pay shareholders a dividend. Sometimes public companies do this — more often, it's those owned by private equity firms.

Why it matters: These deals are peak financial engineering, a purely opportunistic — and potentially risky — use of the debt market. It's notable they're making a comeback even as interest rates remain pretty high.

How it works: When PE firms buy companies, they load them up with debt to fund the purchase.

  • In a recap, they put even more debt on the company's balance sheet to finance the dividend.

What's happening: PE exits — when the firms sell or IPO one of their companies — plummeted over the last two years along with overall deal activity.

  • Enter the recaps: They allow the firms to put their hand in the piggy bank and recoup some of their investment even before they exit. (The transactions have plenty of critics.)
  • Meanwhile, the debt market rallied over the last few months of 2023, so conditions were ripe for the type of riskier debt deals that fund recaps.

The bottom line: Debt-financed dividend deals may not be great for the companies themselves — but they are a sign of debt investors' optimism about the future path of the economy and markets.

Go deeper