DEFINITION of 'Convertible Subordinate Note'

A short-term debt security that can be changed into common stock. A convertible subordinate note is a short-term bond that is convertible (it can be exchanged for common stock at the discretion of the bondholder) and ranks below other loans (it is subordinate to other debt). In the event the issuer becomes bankrupt and liquidates its assets, as a subordinate debt the convertible subordinate note will be repaid after other debt securities have been paid. As with all debt securities, however, the note will be repaid before stock.

BREAKING DOWN 'Convertible Subordinate Note'

A convertible is a type of security that can be converted into common stock at the holder's option. Convertible securities can be exchanged for common stock at a stated conversion price. The number of common shares that can be obtained is determined by the conversion ratio, which divides the par value of the security by the conversion price. For example, assume the conversion price at the time of issue for a convertible subordinate note is $50. Each $1,000 note, then, could be exchanged for 20 shares of common stock ($1,000 / $50 = 20 shares).

The subordinate aspect of the note describes its ranking among other loans. As a subordinate debt, it is considered a junior debt, one that will not be paid until other, senior debt holders are paid in full. A convertible subordinate note, then, is a debt security that is both convertible to common stock at some point in the future and junior to other debts. Because the holder has the option to covert to stock, the note tends to offer a lower rate of return. In general, the more valuable the conversion feature, the lower the rate of return.

Conversion can be either voluntary or forced. A voluntary conversion is initiated by the holder and can occur at any time up to the expiration of the conversion feature. A forced conversion is initiated by the issuing company and can occur at any point in time. A company may, for example, exercise the call privilege on the convertible security. This may be done to remove long-term debt from its balance sheet without having to redeem bonds for cash. A company can encourage conversion by raising its dividend on common stock so that holders are better off owning the common stock.

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