What Is a Catastrophe Call?
In the event of a catastrophe that causes damage to the project being financed, a debt instrument can be redeemed early through a catastrophe call. This provision is commonly associated with municipal bonds and generally has a higher yield than general obligation bonds due to the higher risk involved for the issuer. Catastrophe call provisions are more frequently found in revenue bonds than in GO bonds.
Municipal bonds may include an exceptional clause called "catastrophe call." This provision permits premature redemption of the bond should a catastrophic incident harm the project supported by the bond. The possible disasters are explicitly enumerated within the bond's indenture, and redemption is typically at par value.
The catastrophe call serves as a means to counteract revenue losses linked to a municipal bond issued for a community facility's construction, which subsequently undergoes substantial damage, impairing its ability to generate the necessary funds for bond repayment. It is essential to differentiate catastrophe calls from calamity calls, which safeguard investors in collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs). Calamity calls are activated in response to defaults or prepayments on the underlying mortgages that could disrupt the investment's cash flow.
Exploring Catastrophe Calls
Catastrophe calls are a crucial risk management tool for municipalities facing the threat of natural disasters. In the event of a catastrophic incident, such as an earthquake rendering a recently constructed bridge non-revenue-generating, municipalities with catastrophe call-enabled bonds can redeem these bonds at par value without delay. This provision is essential to mitigate the risk associated with such bonds, and as a result, they typically offer higher yields compared to general obligation (GO) bonds.
Not all municipal bonds incorporate catastrophe call provisions, but they are more prevalent in revenue bonds. Revenue bonds are a specific category of municipal bonds dedicated to financing particular projects that generate their own revenue. The premise behind issuing revenue bonds is that the project's income stream will service the bond's repayment. It's worth noting that revenue bondholders usually do not possess any financial stake in the project's completed assets. For instance, if an institution issues a revenue bond for a toll road, it cannot claim ownership of the toll road should it fail to generate the expected revenue required for interest and principal payments.
Catastrophe Call in Action
Let's examine a practical scenario: The City of Pleasantville, a prominent summer travel hub, begins constructing a new toll road. However, lacking the requisite funds for this project, the city resorts to issuing revenue bonds to its residents, with the expectation that toll collections will cover bond payments and interest over a 30-year term stipulated in the bond agreement. Notably, due to its proximity to a fault line, these revenue bonds feature a catastrophe call provision, a detail acknowledged by investors.
Three years after financing and completing the toll roads, an earthquake strikes Pleasantville, causing significant damage to the toll roads. This earthquake qualifies under the catastrophe call provision, granting the City of Pleasantville the authority to redeem its bonds. This call option enables the city to promptly settle the bonds, bypassing the original bond term and thereby avoiding any additional interest accrual.
Catastrophe calls offer a vital mechanism for municipalities to manage the risk of natural disasters impacting their funded projects. By enabling early redemption in the event of a catastrophe, these provisions are most commonly associated with municipal bonds, which often carry a higher yield than general obligation bonds due to the increased issuer risk. Furthermore, catastrophe call provisions are predominantly found in revenue bonds, a specific category of municipal bonds designed for revenue-generating projects, where the project's income stream is the primary source for bond repayment. This mechanism empowers municipalities to act swiftly when disaster strikes, safeguarding their financial stability and minimizing interest accrual.