Bankruptcy on the Side

Side agreements between creditors of a corporate debtor can dictate how those creditors act when the debtor files for bankruptcy. For example, intercreditor agreements commonly include a promise by one party to remain silent – to waive some procedural right that the party would otherwise have under the Bankruptcy Code – at potentially crucial points in the reorganization process. Because these agreements can alter bankruptcy outcomes even for those outside of the agreement, they are controversial. In a forthcoming article, “Bankruptcy on the Side,” we provide a framework for analyzing these agreements.

Using simplified examples, we show that side agreements … Read more

How Creditors Affect Resource Allocation at Firms in Technical Default

A central topic in financial economics is how the allocation of cash flow and control rights among providers of corporate finance should evolve with firm performance. Theoretically, allowing for a transfer of control to creditors when a firm is in default can alleviate agency problems resulting from the separation of ownership and control, as well as conflicts of interest between debt and equity holders (Jensen and Meckling, 1976).[1] Empirical evidence confirms that governance by creditors has profound effects on not only bankrupt firms (Gilson, 1990), but also a broad spectrum of firms that are merely in technical default.[2]Read more

Wachtell Lipton Discusses Corporate Bankruptcy and Restructuring for 2016 and 2017

Last year was an active but uneven one in the world of corporate bankruptcy and restructuring. On the one hand, default rates in the U.S. remained at relatively muted levels, with the continuation of low interest rates and strong (if sometimes volatile) capital markets. At the same time, as we anticipated a year ago, 2016 was also marked by distress among oil-and-gas exploration companies, “brick and mortar” retailers and municipal issuers in Puerto Rico.

Although commodity prices have stabilized, we expect companies in the oil and gas sector to face continued pressure in 2017. The pressure on traditional retailers, including … Read more

Sullivan & Cromwell Discusses Sovereign Debt Litigation

In a December 22, 2016, decision in the long-running Argentine debt litigation, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York spelled out significant limitations on prior rulings it had issued that were based on the pari passu clause in Argentina’s defaulted bonds.  In those earlier rulings, the court had imposed injunctions barring Argentina from performing on new debt unless it likewise paid the defaulted debt.  Those injunctions were lifted earlier last year in a settlement with most of the holdout creditors.  In the new decision, the court held that Argentina’s payments to creditors who participated in … Read more

Beyond Stakeholder Options in Bankruptcy

Much of the debate in bankruptcy scholarship today centers on the extent to which the law protects stakeholder options. In a new paper, “Beyond Options,” we argue that this focus is misplaced. Protecting options is neither necessary nor sufficient for advancing the goal of a well-functioning bankruptcy system. What is needed is a regime that cashes out the rights of junior stakeholders with minimal judicial involvement.

Modern bankruptcy scholarship adopts an options-based perspective, seeing options embedded in every layer of the firm’s capital structure and examining ways that current law redistributes value across stakeholders by modifying, creating, or destroying options. … Read more

Adventures in Sovereign Debt: Enforcing Russia’s Loan to Ukraine

In December 2015, Ukraine defaulted on a $3 billion loan made two years previously by the Russian government. Governments lend to one another all the time, but this loan was extraordinary, and so were the events that followed in its wake.

Like most government-to-government loans, this one had political motivations. For Russia, these included the desire to reward President Victor Yanukovych for backing out of an Association Agreement that would have deepened Ukraine’s ties to the European Union. The structure, however, was unusual for a government-to-government loan. Whereas governments typically lend funds directly, the Russian loan took the form of … Read more

Restructuring Venezuelan Debt

As sovereign borrowers and their creditors know all too well, the legal framework governing their respective rights and obligations (the so-called international financial architecture) lacks an effective means to enforce payment in most circumstances or to modify payment obligations when the debtor is unable to honor the original terms of its debts. The recent case of Argentina exemplifies both of these shortcomings.  Venezuela’s debt instruments and debt management techniques developed over time nonetheless hold out the promise that the country may forge a path to a successful rearrangement of its debts when a government committed to sound economic policies and … Read more

A New Take on Solvency and Adequate Capitalization in Bankruptcy

Valuation, solvency, and adequate capitalization analyses play a crucial role in the process of reorganizing U.S. companies in bankruptcy.  They are central to allowance of claims, adequate protection, avoidance actions such as fraudulent transfer and preference, rejection of collective bargaining agreements, plan confirmation, and 363 sales.  Solvency opinions may also be sought prospectively in anticipation of transactions such as leveraged buyouts, spin-offs, or dividend recapitalizations.

Courts and bankruptcy professionals have often complained about the expense, delay, subjectivity, and unpredictability inherent in traditional approaches to valuation.  Financial analyses can consume tens of millions … Read more

Sovereign Debt Restructuring: The Battle of Argentina Is Over. The Battle of Venezuela Is About to Begin.

Most of the lawsuits against Argentina in the New York courts ended in the Spring of 2016 through cash settlements with the major litigants.  The market is still digesting the lessons from this 15 years of bitter litigation.  That assessment may eventually conclude that

  • playing the part of a death-grip holdout in a sovereign debt restructuring will probably pay off handsomely,
  • obtaining a court injunction (a so-called pari passu injunction) preventing the sovereign borrower from paying its other external debt without making a “ratable” payment to holdouts is an essential element to a winning holdout strategy, and
  • creditors prepared

Read more

Morrison & Foerster’s Initial Take on the CFPB’s Debt Collection Outline

On July 28, 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB” or “Bureau”) issued its outline of proposals under consideration for the regulation of debt collection. This 117-page release, entitled “Small Business Review Panel for Debt Collector and Debt Buyer Rulemaking: Outline of Proposals Under Consideration and Alternatives Considered” (“Outline”), was announced in connection with the CFPB’s field hearing on debt collection in Sacramento, California (“Field Hearing”). The Outline is in preparation for the convening of a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act Panel (“SBREFA Panel”), a process mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act for CFPB rules anticipated to have a significant … Read more

Gibson Dunn explains Delaware Decision Invalidating Attempt to Prevent Bankruptcy Through “Golden Share”

A Delaware bankruptcy court has invalidated a lender’s attempt to prevent a borrower from filing bankruptcy by having the borrower amend its operating agreement to require unanimous consent among its members to file bankruptcy and then issuing one “golden share” to the lender.

In In re Intervention Energy Holdings, LLC,[1] the borrower had defaulted under a senior secured loan and subsequently entered into a forbearance agreement with its lender.  As part of the forbearance agreement, the lender required the borrower to agree to (a) amend its operating agreement to require approval of each holder of common units prior … Read more

Culture and Conduct: Beyond Regulation and Compliance

“Culture, more than rule books, determines how an organization behaves.” – Warren Buffet[1]

In recent years, there have been ongoing occurrences of serious professional misbehavior, ethical lapses and compliance failures at financial institutions. It was the crisis that exposed systematic mentality errors in finance.[2]

The hope was that post-crisis regulatory reforms would tackle the typical mindset of short-term oriented self-enrichment in finance, considered as one of the origins of the financial crisis. Now, almost ten years after the crash in 2007, the lack of fundamental change raises the question whether there is an endemic issue within the financial … Read more

Regulation by Government-Sponsored Reinsurance in Catastrophe Management

Reinsurance can be understood as simply insurer’s insurance. Under an insurance contract, a policyholder is protected from loss by transferring risk to an insurer; analogously, under a reinsurance contract, an insurer (the cedent or ceding company) is protected from exposure by transferring risk to a reinsurer. Insurers have an increasing demand for more financial capacity when underwriting catastrophic risks. The Cologne Reinsurance Company was the first professional reinsurance company, founded in 1842 following a catastrophic fire in Hamburg the same year. For over a century, reinsurance has been the preferred vehicle to shed primary insurers’ catastrophe risk exposure. For example, … Read more

Clifford Chance discusses How to Leave the EU: The Key Article 50 Issues and UK Constitutional Questions

Much has been written and spoken in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s EU referendum about what the UK must do to leave the EU. We look at the key questions in this area, such as whether the UK has yet decided to withdraw, what it must do to withdraw, whether it can change its mind, and the position of Scotland.

What is the mechanism for leaving the EU?

The mechanism for the UK’s leaving the EU is set out in article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (see Box 1, overleaf).  For withdrawal, article 50 requires:

  • A decision

Read more

PwC explains Brexit: Five Key Points

The UK voters’ decision to exit the EU came as a surprise to many observers, as well as the markets, with the “Leave” campaign even hinting at defeat as the polls closed. The Wall Street echo chamber view that it would make no sense in the end for the UK to leave was just that. The vote has unleashed political, economic, and financial uncertainty that will play out over the months ahead with attendant risk premia rising for affected currencies, equity and fixed income markets, sectors, and individual firms. Market values for banks, insurance companies, and asset managers dropped Friday … Read more

When Did the Stock Market Start to React Less to Downgrades by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch?

Moody’s, S&P and Fitch represent an oligopoly in the credit rating business, accounting for 94 percent of the global market (Candelon et al., 2014) and for about 96.5 percent of all the outstanding ratings in U.S.[1] The three agencies are key players in financial markets as they assess the credit worthiness of almost any debt issuer including governments, firms, municipalities and financial institutions. Moody’s, S&P and Fitch heavily affect corporate financing through ratings assigned to corporate debt. The economic literature has shown that bond ratings are strongly correlated with private bond yields (Hand et al., 1992; Hite and Warga, … Read more

Covenant Violations, Collateral and Access to Funding: Private Firms and Public Firms

Covenants are an important feature of loan contracts that enable ongoing monitoring of borrowers by banks and flexible renegotiation of contract terms in the face of changing external and borrower conditions.  A large body of empirical research has examined the consequences of loan covenant violations for public firms.  However, little is known about how banks react to covenant violations by private companies, despite the large share of these firms in the economy. Any reduction in access to loans is likely to have a more direct impact on investment and employment for private firms since they are primarily reliant on banks … Read more

Davis Polk discusses Appellate Reversal of $1.3 Billion Penalty Against Countrywide, Based on Appellate Finding of Lack of Intent

On May 23, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed a $1.3 billion civil penalty imposed against Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., Bank of America, N.A., and related defendants (collectively, “Countrywide”) under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”).[1]  Although the decision rebuffed the government’s case against Countrywide, it did not address the government’s novel interpretation that FIRREA permits civil penalties against financial institutions whose criminal conduct is “self-affecting.”  FIRREA permits civil penalties against a defendant if it commits certain unlawful acts “affecting a federally insured financial institution.”[2]  Over a … Read more

Bad Hustle

“And we played the Hustle music.  There were, you know, printed materials passed out,” with dance steps so “ideally we could all perform the Hustle in precision,” recalled the former Countrywide first vice president. “There was a lot of excitement.  There was a lot of fanfare. It was fun.”  He was describing events in the summer of 2007, when Countrywide decide to speed up its process for approving loans, using a program called the “High Speed Swim Lane,” or “HSSL” (or “Hustle”).  The music stopped after the global financial crisis.  Bank of America bought out the failing Countrywide Financial.  In … Read more

Long Live the Editor

After the July 4th weekend, Reynolds Holding will be taking over as the fourth editor-at-large of the CLS Blue Sky Blog.  It has been a remarkable year and a half, and I am confident our Blog will continue to grow in the coming years.  I am grateful to the faculty committee (Professors Jack Coffee, Ed Greene, Robert Jackson and Kate Judge), the student editors (Jennifer Barrows, AJ Farkas and John Knight) as well as Columbia Law School for providing opportunity and support.  I intend to continue writing as time allows and invite you to visit my webpage.  I believe … Read more