Each national government has such an “exin bank”, funded by the ministry of finance. (There are also some multinational exin banks like Asian Dev Bank, World Bank…) Their mandate is to support their own exporters in terms of *default risk*. The ECA guarantees to the supplier that even if the overseas client (importer) defaults, the ECA would cover the supplier. It’s technically a loan to the importer, to be paid back. For those non-commercial risks affecting large deals (up to several billion dollars), the ECA’s have a natural advantage over commercial banks – they are financed by the government and can deal with the political and other risks across the borders.
Political risk is quite high, but the guarantee fee charged by ECA is very low. This paradox disappears if you understand that those big deals support domestic job creation, and tax/revenue generation of the large national exporters, so even if the fee charged by the ECA is arguably insufficient to cover the credit risk they take on, the decision still make sense. I think these ECA’s are using tax-payer’s money to help the home-grown exporters.
However, the ECA won’t blindly give big money to unknown foreign importers. Due diligence required.
The ECA’s are usually profitable on the back of those fees they charge (something like 1% above Libor). I guess the default intensity is statistically lower than feared, perhaps thanks to the risk analysis by the various parties. Risk assessment is the key “due diligence” and also the basis of the pricing. The #1 risk event being assessed is importer default. The exporter (supplier) are invariably blue chip corporations with a track record, and know what they are doing. 80% of the defaults (either by importer, exporter or the lending bank) are due to political risk, rather than commercial risk.
Many entities take part in the risk assessment, bringing with them special expertise and insight. The commercial bank has big teams dealing with ECA; the exporter needs to assess the buyer’s credit; the ECA has huge credit review teams… There are also specialist advisory firms who do not lend money. If any one of them identifies a high risk they can’t quantify and contain, I would say it’s only logical and prudent to hesitate.
The exporter first approach a (or a group of) commercial bank(s). The bank would seek *guarantee* from the national ECA. The guarantee covers 90% to 100% of the bank loan, so the bank has a very small credit exposure. (The ECA themselves have very high credit rating.) In the event of a default, the bank or exporter would be compensated by the ECA.
They mostly cover capital goods export, such as airplanes/trains/ships, power plants, infrastructure equipment, with long term repayment … So the supplier are mostly blue chip manufacturers. These loans are tricky because
· Long term, so event risk is much higher
· The entity to assess is a foreign entity, often in a developing country
· Big amount, so potential financial loss is sometimes too big for a single commercial lender
China, Japan and Korea are some of the biggest exporter nations.