The Luxembourg market is particular in the sense that international groups as well as investors have chosen Luxembourg as a European financial centre specialising in serving international clients and investors. Luxembourg’s sense of innovation has also made it an important jurisdiction for start-ups becoming the target of acquisitions.
Luxembourg is also a prime jurisdiction for debt, credit and opportunities funds and major players in acquisition financing, and is an important player in sustainable finance.
Luxembourg corporate structures in international acquisitions are therefore very common, generally for reasons of innovation, efficient structuring, corporate law and the availability of specialised vehicles, as well as the stability, and the local know-how in respect to holding structures, international financing transactions and investment funds. Other reasons for the importance of international acquisition financing in Luxembourg are the efficiency of the available collateral package and the Luxembourg stock exchange/Euro MTF in respect to debt capital.
As a result, the major players active in the Luxembourg lending market are truly international and include international banks, Luxembourg and foreign debt or credit funds, and more and more local banks or lending vehicles.
Similar to the very international character of the major players on the lending side, there is a mixture of international corporate financing and leverage acquisition financing implemented through Luxembourg.
The finance documents (other than security documents) reflect the international character of the financial market and the flexibility of Luxembourg contract law, and are more often than not governed by foreign law, predominantly English and US law. More recently, however, with a certain shift to the continent and an increase in acquisition financing activity among Luxembourg lenders, Luxembourg law has been used more frequently as the governing law of the main finance documents. In respect to security, among other matters, Luxembourg follows the rule lex rei sitae and therefore the law governing the security documents will largely depend on the jurisdiction of the relevant asset. Luxembourg assets will typically be subject to Luxembourg law security.
The facility agreements are mostly based on Loan Market Association (LMA) or Loan Syndication and Trading Association (LSTA) standard loan agreements, and typically contain the terms and conditions that are considered market practice in the major jurisdictions and other financial centres. Facilities governed by Luxembourg law will often also follow or be similar to the standard LMA or, less frequently, LSTA arrangements.
Typically, given the international character, finance documentation is drafted in English, with some exceptions of French or German. There is no language requirement in Luxembourg, and the international market largely favours the English language.
The provision of legal opinions is part of the international market practice and a given in acquisition financing. The Luxembourg market practice generally follows the practice of the jurisdiction of the governing law as to the legal adviser giving the opinion, and therefore legal opinions are given by lender counsel, borrower counsel or both, with varying scopes. Legal opinions generally cover the full range of customary opinions, such as validity, legality, enforceability, existence, capacity and authority, governing law and jurisdiction, non-conflict, etc.
Acquisition structures generally involve one or several layers of Luxembourg companies, depending on circumstances such as whether, in addition to a management participation, there is an institutional co-investment or a seller rollover, whether there is a multi-layer financing requiring structural subordination or providing for a high-yield notes offering, or whether there is a need or desire to separate the borrower group from the rest of the group.
Certain sponsors also favour a “master” or “super” holdco structure, whereby the deal-specific acquisition structures are set up as "silos" under a global Luxembourg hub. Similar structures, with acquisition “silos”, are common if the relevant sponsor fund is located in Luxembourg.
A typical acquisition structure consists of a Luxembourg-based parent company at the top of the acquisition structure, which serves as a holding company/sponsor and management, or possibly a joint venture vehicle. Certain players prefer to invest in the top holding company through their own dedicated Luxembourg-based holding company. Below the parent company, one or more intermediate holding companies are set up to accommodate the debt financing and possibly the security structure. In acquisition structures, one would commonly see one or more non-regulated entities below the relevant fund, sponsor or corporate.
Among other things, Luxembourg acquisition structures allow flexibility in providing investor funding to the acquisition company. Such funding is granted partly in the form of pure equity (share capital and premium) and partly in the form of debt.
The third party debt portion takes various forms and ranges from senior loans, mezzanine loans, first and second lien, and PIK loans to debt securities, covering everything in between; it depends entirely on the financing needs, the market conditions and the availability of certain sources of financing. It is more common than not to have a mixture of debt made up of any of the above. Equity kicker rights granted to certain mezzanine lenders (regularly debt funds), allowing them to obtain a participation in the equity of the structure, are also sometimes used.
Senior loans are generally part of acquisition financing. In a first instance, they are normally granted by one or more major international banks or loan originating funds (often based in Luxembourg). As part of syndication or later transfers or participations, other lending players such as debt or loan funds will hold part of the debt.
Although lending to the public is a regulated activity in Luxembourg, there are structures where funding is provided not only in the form of “pure” loans – be it senior, subordinated or bridge – but also with an investment element, namely linked to the equity. Such financings bear a higher risk as they are often unsecured or benefit only from limited recourse or lower ranking security, and are subordinated either contractually or for part of the funding through the form of the funding, namely the equity element. The higher risk calls for a higher reward, of course, and higher interest rates apply. Furthermore, the equity element allows a direct or indirect sharing in the profits or a participation in the secondary offering – for example, in the event of an IPO of the relevant company.
Mezzanine financing, although still provided for by banks, also attracts more specialised “lenders” – ie, funds or other investment vehicles that intend to make an “investment” rather than proceeding to a pure lending. Such funds or investment vehicles are often based in Luxembourg and/or for various reasons propose to structure their mezzanine financings through special purpose companies. The provision of such “financing” in Luxembourg by entities other than banks or other authorised entities may raise the issue of whether such financing would qualify as a lending activity and thus be prohibited for non-regulated entities. Mezzanine investment activity is generally different from a “pure” lending or banking activity for a number of reasons. Where a Luxembourg special purpose vehicle is used by mezzanine lenders, such company does not normally itself appear to the public as offering its services as a lender. Furthermore, it is often not possible to separate the debt side from the equity side. Such investments are generally structured as debt in order to provide adequate rights to the lender (namely, creditor rights) but economically also present equity characteristics. In terms of ranking, the mezzanine lender is closer to the shareholder than an ordinary lender, and his return is generally enhanced either by elements of in-kind reimbursements (PIK) or by the issue of warrants or similar equity exposed securities. On that basis, mezzanine structures using Luxembourg special purpose vehicles normally fall outside the scope of the regulated financial activities.
Bridge loans are commonly used, either if the financing set up includes debt securities to be issued at a later stage or to bridge the gap between the time when the funding is needed and the time that the acquiring fund expects to receive the money from investors. Funds often use bridge loans to be able to react quickly to investment opportunities, to reduce the number of capital calls, to be able to determine the exact amount of the capital call, and to have better control and visibility over the timing of the capital call.
The issue of high-yield or other debt instruments is a method of financing that goes through cycles and the use thereof in acquisition financing depends on the market. The bonds are generally issued under English or US law. Luxembourg company law expressly permits the issue of bonds by a Luxembourg company under a law other than Luxembourg law, and stipulates that provisions of Luxembourg law relating in particular to bondholder representation and meetings can be expressly disapplied.
Debt securities used in Luxembourg acquisition financings are commonly issued under the private placement exemptions. Loan notes are generally vendor loan notes.
Intercreditor agreements and subordination agreements are entered into in almost all international acquisition financing transactions in Luxembourg, and are generally not governed by Luxembourg law.
Typically, intercreditor arrangements applicable in Luxembourg acquisition finance structures regulate the respective rights of the finance parties as well as those of the intragroup lenders and shareholders, including ranking and priority, receipt of payments, the effect of events of default, enforcement, sharing, debt acquisition, and redistribution. They also regularly include the security agent appointment and terms.
In large-scale financing transactions with multiple layers of debt, different intercreditor agreements are sometimes entered into between the different finance parties and frame worked by a master intercreditor agreement.
Master intercreditor agreements are used more and more often in bank/bond financings.
Intercreditor agreements generally provide for a senior ranking claim of the hedge counterparties (and thus scheduled payments to the hedge counterparties are permitted), but the conditions to close out hedging transactions are subject to restrictions.
Luxembourg companies in acquisition structures are commonly holding or finance companies whose main assets consist of the holding of participations, intercompany receivables and assets on bank accounts. The form of security interest depends largely on the location of the assets. In addition, Luxembourg companies also regularly hold intellectual property rights (“IPRs”) and can hold real estate. The most common forms of security are pledges and transfers by way of guarantee (and, with respect to real estate, mortgages).
Luxembourg law permits the implementation of a very secure and efficient security package as regards assets located (or deemed to be located) in Luxembourg.
The first category of securities covers financial collateral arrangements. The law of 5 August 2005 on financial collateral agreements, as amended (the “Financial Collateral Law”), provides for a robust framework where financial collateral arrangements are largely excluded from the scope of bankruptcy. The Financial Collateral Law provides for the following types of financial collateral:
The pledge of assets is the most common collateral in acquisition finance. “Collateral” means financial instruments and claims whereby the Financial Collateral Law expressly provides that “financial instruments” shall have the “broadest possible meaning”, and includes a non-exhaustive list of different types of financial instrument. This is particularly relevant in respect to new types of assets, such as tokens or smart contracts, and the analysis as to whether they may be qualified as “financial instruments” under the Financial Collateral Law. However, the assets generally subject to pledges in acquisition financing transactions remain shares (or other equity or similar securities), loans and bank accounts.
The Luxembourg financial collateral pledge has certain appealing features, which make it a useful tool in finance structures, including the following:
Pledges over shares (including future shares and related assets) and equity instruments are very common in Luxembourg. The perfection is made through the entry into the register of shares of the pledged company (shares in registered form) or the register of the depository (shares in bearer form). The company over whose shares a pledge is granted is commonly made a party to the pledge agreement. The agreement will regulate the exercise of voting and other rights and the rights to distribution. In addition, the parties would normally agree on the appropriation of the shares in the case of enforcement, and on the related valuation methodology required by law.
Pledges over other types of equity (eg, beneficiary certificates) or debt securities (PECs, CPECs, loan notes) largely follow the rules applicable to share pledges.
Pledges can be taken over cash or securities accounts located in Luxembourg. Accounts can be operated freely even when pledged, or be blocked accounts depending on the terms of the pledge agreement. In order to permit a validly perfected pledge, the account bank will be asked to waive its prior lien on the account and to acknowledge the pledge. Depending on the type of financing structure, signature powers over the relevant accounts can be regulated in the pledge agreement.
Receivables are either made subject to a pledge or assigned. Security over intercompany receivables is generally perfected (through the notification of the security or by making the debtor a party to the agreement), while security over receivables due from third parties is not always perfected, but this has an impact on its enforceability and ranking.
The second category of securities consists of agreements over movable assets, which are not considered as financial collateral arrangements.
Other Movable Assets
In finance acquisition transactions, securities over movable properties other than financial instruments or claims are more unusual. If such security is taken, it would normally take the form of a commercial pledge (gage commercial) and would be governed by the Luxembourg Commercial Code. However, certain movable assets – such as aircrafts and ships weighing more than 20 tonnes – must be secured by a specific mortgage.
Pledges on inventories are quite unusual in Luxembourg, given that the pledgee must hold a special authorisation and the pledges are subject to restrictions.
Pledges over IPRs can be made in relation to the following in particular:
A pledge over patents must be registered with the Patent Registry of the National Intellectual Property Services, and a pledge over trade marks and designs must be registered with the Benelux Office of Intellectual Property. Other pledges over IP rights are generally governed by private agreements only.
The third category of securities covers immovable assets and, in particular, real estate.
The principal security granted over real estate is the mortgage (hypothèque), which takes the form of a notarial deed and must be registered with both the Administration Registry (administration de l’enregistrement et des domaines) and the Mortgage Registry (bureau de conservation des hypothèques). The registration of the mortgage is subject to a registration fee, and must be renewed every ten years in order to remain enforceable against third parties.
The most commonly used security in acquisition finance – the financial collateral subject to the Financial Collateral Law – is not subject to stringent form requirements. The Financial Collateral Law provides that financial collateral arrangements and netting agreements may be evidenced among the parties and vis-à-vis third parties in writing or by any other legally equivalent manner, as determined by the Commercial Code. The Financial Collateral Law further provides, inter alia, that the provision of collateral must be capable of being evidenced in writing. The written instrument evidencing the provision of collateral, which may be in electronic format or any other durable medium, must allow the identification of the collateral to which it applies. With regard to book entry financial instruments and cash claims collateral, it is sufficient to prove that they have been credited to, or form a credit in, a designated account.
A Luxembourg company must act within the limits of the corporate object specified in its articles of association, and in its corporate interest (see 5.5 Other Restrictions, below). As a general rule, companies cannot simply encumber their assets or grant guarantees (or security) in favour of third parties (including group companies) without this being in their corporate interest. Upstream security (or guarantees) must therefore be within the company's corporate object, and a corporate interest analysis (which is a factual analysis) must be made by the board of the company. To the extent the articles permit such security or guarantees and the transaction is determined to be in the corporate interest of the company, a Luxembourg company may grant security and guarantees for the benefit of group companies (including upstream or cross-stream security). Subject to certain conditions discussed below, the group interest may also be taken into account.
The financial assistance rules apply particularly in relation to the purchase of shares (and instruments convertible into shares) of joint stock companies (société anonyme and société anonyme simplifiée) and corporate partnerships limited by shares. These companies only provide financial assistance directly or indirectly (advance funds, make loans, grant security, and provide guarantees) for the purpose of the acquisition of their shares by a third party, subject to stringent conditions – ie, subject to a so-called white wash procedure. Transactions concluded by banks and other financial institutions in the normal course of business or transactions effected with a view to the acquisition of shares by or for the staff of the company or certain group companies are not subject to such conditions, with the exception of the net asset test condition.
Financial assistance may be provided under the responsibility of the board of directors on the following conditions:
There are certain other conditions that need to be satisfied when a Luxembourg company is granting security or giving guarantees. The rules governing these restrictions stem from general principles of law and must be applied on a case-by-case basis to the specific circumstances. The conditions to be satisfied relate to corporate power, corporate authority, and corporate benefit.
Limits on the corporate power can be imposed either by law or by the articles of incorporation of the company.
Limits on the corporate power imposed by law
In the past, the question has arisen of whether a Luxembourg company may grant security or give guarantees in respect of debts or obligations of its parent company or a sister company, without any monetary consideration (namely, no commission). The reason for the debate lies in the concept of the Luxembourg Civil Code, pursuant to which a company is established with a view to participating in the profits (and losses) that may arise therefrom. A purely free (or gratuitous) act, without consideration, is therefore outside the limits of commercial law, given that the goal to share the profits is an essential element of every company.
Nowadays, both doctrine and case law give an extensive interpretation to the principle of profit participation, and agree that the search for profit can be direct or indirect. As a result, a company may carry out acts for which it does not receive a monetary consideration to the extent its actions are in furtherance of its object. In respect to intragroup guarantees and security, authors generally conclude that “except in exceptional circumstances, an intragroup security is a type of act which may serve the purpose of realising a profit.”
It is therefore only in exceptional cases when the circumstances do not reasonably allow justification, even indirectly, of a potential benefit of, or a motivated interest for, the proposed guarantee or security for a company that the validity thereof could be challenged and/or the liability of directors could be invoked.
Limits on the corporate power imposed by the articles of incorporation
The corporate power of a company is determined by its articles of incorporation. The purpose of the object clause is to set the framework within which the management is authorised and instructed to develop and manage the affairs of the company.
Object clauses of a Luxembourg company are normally more specific than those one would traditionally find in Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions. Typically, Luxembourg companies that are part of an acquisition structure will have a financial participation company object (ie, objects limited to holding and managing participations in other companies in Luxembourg or abroad). In order to provide guarantees or security, the wording of the object clause should specifically address this possibility (including upstream or cross-stream guarantees or security).
If the provision of a guarantee or security by a Luxembourg company would be considered to exceed the corporate object provided under the articles of incorporation, the company is most likely still bound by the relevant transaction, even if such transaction is ultra vires; however, its management may be held liable. The relevant provision in Luxembourg corporate law, which is derived from the first company law directive, has the merit of protecting lenders acting in good faith. The company could not at a later stage claim the annulment of the loan or the guarantee that exceeded the corporate object. However, the reverse is also true, and the lenders similarly could not achieve the result of the loan being declared null and void.
The protection is, however, only granted to good faith lenders. Luxembourg authors have pointed out that, where legal opinions contain assumptions or qualifications in relation to this aspect, a bank might be considered to have been aware of the breach of the object clause and, as a consequence, the company could claim that the guarantee or security is null and void. Although this could be the case for a specific qualification in a legal opinion, the solution should not be the same in the presence of an assumption, in which case the lawyer “assumes” a fact he has not verified without expressing any view on it. Furthermore, in light of the extended review of the target’s group, which is generally made by the lenders and their advisers, particularly through legal due diligence, it may prove difficult to convince a judge that the lenders had no knowledge of the ultra vires issue.
Decisions on the granting of guarantees or security are within the competence (and under the responsibility) of the board of directors. The board shall take its decision on the basis of all relevant elements needed for the board members to make an informed judgement – in particular the amount and terms of the borrowing or the guarantee, including details of interest rates, reimbursement dates and options, specific representations and warranties, negative pledges, covenants, and the effect of their decision on the financial capacity of the company. The analysis of these elements by the board will be of utmost importance, particularly in the discussions on the corporate benefit. Practice shows that the board often approves the principles of the transaction on the basis of the main terms and conditions, and grants power to a committee or to one or more directors to finalise documents in the negotiations, to make appropriate amendments where necessary, and to later execute the contracts in the name and on behalf of the company.
A Luxembourg company must always act in its corporate interest. Therefore, the granting of security and guarantees is also subject to the existence of the company’s corporate interest in providing these and, according to certain authors and also some case law, their validity may depend thereon.
“Corporate interest” when used herein is used as a translation of the French concept “intérêt social”.
“Corporate interest” is not defined by law as such; the concept has been developed by doctrine and court precedents. It is (in our view) best described as being “the limit of acceptable corporate behaviour”. Different interpretations have been given to the term "corporate interest", whereby the broad interpretation that prevails is based on the institutional theory of the company and concludes that the interest of the company is more than the interest of the shareholders but is the interest of the company in itself as a legal entity and all its stakeholders – ie, the entire collectivity gathered around the company, comprising the company itself and its shareholders but also its creditors, bankers and workforce.
The corporate interest analysis is a factual analysis and is specific to the company and the circumstances. In acquisition financing, when considering the corporate interest of a company, the concept of a group of companies becomes very relevant, particularly in the case of upstream and sidestream guarantees or securities.
In certain circumstances, a company will be able to show that a guarantee or a security is in its best corporate interest simply by looking at its own situation on an isolated level. This is typically the case where a guarantee is issued or a security granted as a downstream guarantee or security in favour of the debts of a direct or indirect subsidiary. The same is true if the company is to guarantee or secure a debt that ultimately is on-lent to it or its subsidiaries. An analysis on the precise circumstances of the case will, however, always be necessary in order to come to a definitive conclusion (particularly in view of the exact percentages held in the company in respect of which the guarantee is proposed to be given, the amount of the guarantee in comparison to the financial capacity of the company and its group, etc).
In a typical acquisition transaction with a requirement of a “full security package”, most if not all group members will be asked to give guarantees and provide security for the borrowers’ obligations. Guarantees and security will be downstream, upstream and cross-stream. The analysis and existence of the group will therefore be crucial to determine the corporate interest and allow the directors to go beyond the mere sphere of the entity considered on a standalone basis and consider the “common interest” of the group.
The basis of the Luxembourg analysis is a French court precedent (Cass Crim 4.02.1985, arrêt Rozenblum, Revue des Sociétés, 1985, 648–655) relating to a case where the offence of abuse of corporate assets was analysed at board level (namely where management was suspected of using assets of the company in their own personal interest “which they knew was contrary to the interest of the company”), in which the criteria for allowing a valid justification of the corporate interest for intragroup guarantees have been developed. The questions have similarly been dealt with by Belgian court precedents and authors.
In general terms, it results from precedents and doctrine to which Luxembourg courts will be likely to refer that, in the context of a group of related companies, the existence of a group interest in granting upstream or sidestream financial assistance under any form (including under the form of guarantee or security) to group companies constitutes sufficient corporate benefit to enable a company to provide such financial assistance, provided that the following conditions are met:
It is important to carry out a case-by-case analysis, reviewing the above criteria in the given situation. A subjective fact-based judgment will need to be made by the directors (but must be objectively justifiable).
Criteria for Enforcement
Enforcement triggers for guarantees or security are generally determined freely and tend to be in line with international practice regarding acquisition finance transactions. The most common enforcement triggers are therefore non-payment, commencement of insolvency proceedings and material breach of contract.
Procedures for Enforcement
Guarantees may be called generally by a simple notice to the guarantor, depending on the contractually agreed terms of the relevant agreement.
The procedures for the enforcement of security differ depending on the type of security being enforced.
Mortgages and civil and commercial pledges are most commonly enforced by a public auction sale of the secured assets. A prior summons to pay must be served on the debtor of the secured obligation before an enforcement procedure can begin (in the case of a mortgage, such summons to pay must be served by a bailiff).
As regards pledges on financial instruments and claims governed by the Financial Collateral Law, a number of enforcement remedies are available to the pledgee. Unless otherwise agreed between the parties, the pledgee may do the following, without prior notice:
Effect of Insolvency Proceedings on Enforcement
Insolvency proceedings impose a specific order of priority for repayment and may affect the validity of certain transactions, including security arrangements or guarantees, if they were concluded during the hardening period (période suspecte) or up to ten days preceding the hardening period. The date on which the hardening period starts is fixed by the court, but it is a maximum of six months before the start of insolvency procedures.
However, the start of insolvency proceedings does not prevent the enforcement of security interests governed by the Financial Collateral Law, as they are not subject to the hardening period rules and remain valid and enforceable.
Guarantees granted by a Luxembourg company are commonly used in the context of secured lending transactions, and are generally accompanied by a parallel debt language in order to facilitate enforcement by the security trustee.
Under Luxembourg law, there are basically two categories of guarantee, as follows:
The conditions that must be fulfilled by the guarantor are the same as for the pledgor (corporate power, corporate authority, corporate benefit and no financial assistance – see 5.5 Other Restrictions).
While the provision of a guarantee by a Luxembourg company may generally not be without “consideration”, such consideration does not necessarily have to be a fee or other monetary consideration (see 5.5 Other Restrictions).
Luxembourg law does not recognise the concept of “equitable” subordination.
Claw-back of Security in Insolvency
Insolvency proceedings may affect the validity of transactions (including guarantees and certain security arrangements) if the relevant transactions were concluded during the hardening period (période suspecte) or up to ten days preceding the hardening period (see 5.6 General Principles of Enforcement, above). Furthermore, certain transactions may be voided even if they occur outside the hardening period, although such transactions would generally have to defraud creditors.
The following transactions are automatically void when concluded during the hardening period (or as the case may be, the preceding ten days):
It is to be noted that an important exception to the rules above results from the Financial Collateral Law.
Furthermore, under Luxembourg bankruptcy rules, legal set-off (ie, set-off between reciprocal debts that are both claimable and due for immediate payment) is still valid during the hardening period, while contractual set-off (ie, between reciprocal debts that are not both claimable and/or that are not due for immediate payment) is not accepted. However, case law has decided, albeit in a restrictive way, that post-bankruptcy set-off is admissible if there is a nexus between the mutual claims to be set-off, meaning that such claims need to have a common “cause” and, therefore, be indivisible.
At any rate, the Financial Collateral Law provides that set-off between mutually owed “claims” and “financial instruments” is valid, notwithstanding the existence of any type of insolvency proceedings if it is the result of transactions that are the subject matter of bilateral or multilateral set-off arrangements or clauses. The traditional post-bankruptcy set-off prohibition may thus be neutralised to a very large extent.
Claw-back rules are also generally not an obstacle to the enforcement of valid security interests prior to the adjudication in bankruptcy if the enforcement of such security interests has been finalised before the adjudication in bankruptcy.
A borrower or financial sponsor may, from time to time, conduct a debt buy-back. There are generally no restrictions on debt buy-back transactions; although legal provisions regulating and organising the redemption of shares exist, there are no legal provisions that govern debt buy-back. Buy-backs are subject to the contractual agreement between parties.
Typically, contractual buy-back provisions in large global transactions with sophisticated investors permit for the buy-back to be conducted by both the borrower and a sponsor, subject to ensuring that all debtors are treated in an equal manner and all investors are informed in a transparent fashion.
In the last few years, the benefit from discounted values in a distressed financial environment has resulted in junior and senior debt being heavily bought back.
Unless there is a voluntary registration of the finance documents by one of the parties or a contractual obligation to do so, finance documents are, in principle, not to be registered under the laws of Luxembourg, so no stamp or registration or similar duties or taxes or charges are payable under the laws of Luxembourg. If registered, the finance documents must be registered with the Luxembourg Administration de l’Enregistrement, des Domaines et de la TVA, and a fixed or an ad valorem registration tax will be payable depending on the nature of the finance document. As an example, facility agreements or agreements including an obligation to pay, if registered, are subject to a 0.24% registration tax, whereas pledge agreements (which in practice do not include an obligation to pay but only refer to the facility agreement, which itself includes the obligation to pay) are subject to a fixed registration tax of EUR12.
It should also be noted that registration taxes may also be due where the finance documents are referred to in a public deed or used before a Luxembourg official authority or any autorité constituée, or before a Luxembourg Court, notably by being referred to in a writ, to the extent that the finance documents are subject to mandatory registration within a strict deadline (délai de rigueur) or in cases where the finance documents are physically attached to a public deed or any other document(s) subject to mandatory registration.
The documents subject to mandatory registration are limited in number and principally include agreements related to real estate properties located in Luxembourg (eg, a renting agreement for more than nine years) or airplanes or vessels registered under the Luxembourg flag.
In principle, interest payments are not subject to withholding tax in Luxembourg, except in certain specific circumstances (eg, certain profit participating securities) or where the interest is paid to Luxembourg resident individuals (in which case the withholding tax is the final tax).
In such circumstances, the finance documents generally provide that the Luxembourg borrower or guarantor does not have to gross-up the amount to be paid to such a lender.
The concept of “Qualifying Lender” under the finance documents covers mainly a lender benefiting from the withholding tax exemption or a treaty lender benefiting from the withholding tax exemption provided for under a relevant double tax treaty concluded by Luxembourg, or from a withholding tax at a reduced rate.
There are currently no thin capitalisation rules in Luxembourg tax laws. However, with respect to the financing of participations, the tax administration generally requires an 85:15 debt-to-equity ratio for related party financing or for third party financing guaranteed by a related party. If a Luxembourg company is deemed to be over-indebted, excessive interest will not be tax deductible and may be subject to a 15% dividend withholding tax.
In addition, Luxembourg companies have been subject to an interest deduction limitation rule since 1 January 2019. This rule was introduced under the laws of Luxembourg because of the implementation of Council Directive (EU) 2016/1164 of 12 July 2016 laying down rules against tax avoidance practices that directly affect the functioning of the internal market (the “ATAD I Law”). Under that rule, borrowing costs exceeding the borrowing income of a Luxembourg company will be deductible in a given tax year only up to the higher of (i) 30% of the company’s net revenues before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (“EBITDA”) or (ii) EUR3 million.
The rule has no tax impact if the Luxembourg company uses the amount received under the facility agreement to finance other group companies itself, as the borrowing costs of the Luxembourg company should not exceed its borrowing income (ie, the Luxembourg company is, in any case, obliged to realise a taxable margin on its financing activities).
Similarly, where the amount received under the facility agreement is used by the Luxembourg company to acquire a participation in another company qualifying for the Luxembourg participation exemption regime, the new interest limitation rules should lead to the same result as the existing Luxembourg “recapture” rules as regards the non-deductibility of interest expenses connected to tax-exempt income. The recapture rules merely allow the deductibility of interest expenses above the tax-exempt dividend it receives. However, where the Luxembourg company realises capital gains that are exempt under the Luxembourg participation exemption rule, such capital gains remain taxable up to the amount of the interest that has been deducted over the past years.
The main regulated industries in Luxembourg that relate specifically to acquisition finance are credit institutions, “professionals of the financial sector” (such as investment companies, administration or transfer agents), investment funds and insurance companies. The competent regulators are generally the following:
Generally, any change of ownership of a credit institution or other “professionals of the financial sector” must be disclosed to the CSSF and, depending on the percentage of shares being acquired in the target, prior approval must be obtained. The new shareholder (with a qualifying holding) and the management must produce evidence of their professional standing (assessed on the basis of police records and any evidence that shows their good reputation and irreproachable conduct) and financial robustness.
Over the last few years, various private equity houses have acquired administration agents in Luxembourg that qualify as “professionals of the financial sector”, and these acquisitions are subject to CSSF prior approval. In these circumstances, the timetable must obviously take into account the need for regulatory approval. In addition, the financing of the transaction must be adapted, given that the regulated business entities may be restricted in providing general guarantees or security. The structuring of the transaction to provide an adequate yet acceptable security package, from a regulatory perspective, is likely to be more time consuming than for the acquisition of an unregulated business.
When considering the financing of the acquisition of a listed company, while the target may in such instance be a Luxembourg company, it is fairly rare for the shares of such company to be listed solely on the Luxembourg stock exchange – they are more likely to be listed on a foreign exchange, so the rules of such jurisdiction would to a large extent apply.
The situation where the target company would be a Luxembourg company listed on the Luxembourg stock exchange where Luxembourg takeover rules would apply is fairly exceptional, but there have been some cases, such as the takeover of Arcelor by Mittal. In such cases, the rules of the Luxembourg law dated 19 May 2006 on public takeovers (the “Public Takeover Law”) implementing EC Directive 2004/25 apply.
According to Art 3(e) of the Public Takeover Law, “an offeror must announce a bid only after ensuring that he can fulfil in full any cash consideration, if such is offered, and after taking all reasonable measures to secure the implementation of any other type of consideration,” Article 6(3) l) of the Public Takeover Law further provides that the offer document, which the offeror is obliged to prepare and make available to the public, must contain, inter alia, information concerning the financing of the bid.
While the legal provisions do not contain a “certain funds requirement”, the offeror may be well advised to obtain firm commitments as to the financing of the offer, even though this is not specifically requested under the Public Takeover Law. The regulator may also enquire about the certainty of the offer financing.
Following market practice in other EU countries, offer documents governed by Luxembourg law and approved by the Luxembourg regulator generally contain provisions confirming that firm commitments have been given to finance the offer and thus guarantee the completion thereof.
It is common in Luxembourg for the rules of more than one jurisdiction to have to be complied with, and market practice will align to what is customary in London, Paris or Frankfurt, as the case may be.