Monday, September 12, 2011

The Mini-Bond Revolution

I hope you all had yourselves a fun and relaxing weekend. I'm personally glad to have football back, and I'm looking forward to the Patriots-Dolphins MNF game tonight to distract me from what's going on with my baseball team lately.

But in a weekend that otherwise could have been dominated by football, the most entertaining bit of sports I watched this weekend was the 5th set of the Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer semifinal match at the U.S. Open on Saturday. It was a nice reminder for me that tennis, at its best, can be wildly entertaining to watch. No other sport pits two individuals against each other so directly, and the resulting dynamics (including those between the players and the fans) can be absolutely fascinating.

So with tennis fresh in my mind, I was drawn to this old article from the Wall Street Journal, which was referenced over at the Marginal Revolution blog. It's about Wimbledon, and a pretty creative business idea that they've come up with in response to increasingly skittish global debt markets.
In England, no ticket is hotter than the men's final at Wimbledon. Even a mediocre match is an occasion. And there is always the chance to witness history.
Think Federer vs. Nadal. Or, if you are old enough, McEnroe vs. Borg.
So how do you get in? Most seats go to members of the exclusive All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which hosts the event, to other associated tennis clubs and organizations or to winners of an annual public ballot.
But there is a backdoor onto Centre Court. About 2,500 seats are reserved for investors in the club's so-called debentures, or bonds.
The club has issued these since the 1920s to finance development. But instead of paying cash coupons, like regular bonds, Wimbledon debentures pay interest in something much more valuable: tickets.
Holders get one ticket for each day of the Wimbledon tournaments during the five-year life of the bond. And here is the kicker: If you don't feel like going on any given day, you can sell it—legally.
"They're the only tickets that are freely tradable on the open market," says All England Finance Director Richard Atkinson. "You are free to sell them to anyone you like."
Okay, so the bonds weren't exactly a response to the European debt crisis--Wimbledon's been doing them since the 1920s. But as Marginal Revolution points out, similar mini-bond programs have become something of a trend over in the U.K. in recent years, somewhat mirroring the explosion of microfinance loans in the previous decade.

Regardless of what government talking heads might like to tell you, we don't need the banks to lend to us in order for commerce to operate freely. They certainly make things easier, but when banks aren't lending (and they aren't, particularly not to small businesses, despite trillions in government bailouts and backing), people will find other ways to finance their operations. These sorts of mini-bonds are a perfect example, and they underscore the ceaselessly amazing adaptability and ingenuity of people in difficult (or changing) circumstances.

Banks, beware. You're not the only lender in town, as much as you might like us to believe that you are.

[Wall Street Journal]  
(h/t Marginal Revolution)

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