An Explanation for the Low Bankruptcy Rates: Debt

posted by Bob Lawless

Yesterday, I noted the U.S. bankruptcy filing rate of 2.38 per 1,000 persons is at historic lows. The next question is always why. In this post, I am going to try to walk through an explanation in four graphs. The upshot is that consumer debt is low but rising. As I like to say, it takes years of study to come to the conclusion that people file bankruptcy because they are in debt. This is not to say that other factors are not contributors -- unemployment, general economic conditions -- but the primary macroeconomic driver of bankruptcy filings is the amount of debt on household balance sheets.

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Bankruptcy Filings Holding Steady for the First Half of 2017

posted by Bob Lawless

2017 Projected Filings from JuneUsing data from Epiq Systems, we appear to be on track for 774,000 bankruptcy filings for the 2017 calendar year. That would basically be the same rate of filings as in 2016 when total filings were just under 772,000. This calculation comes from a simple extrapolation. There were just under 400,000 bankruptcy filings for the first six months of this year. To get an estimate of what filings will be for the entire year, we cannot simply double the six-month figure because bankruptcy filings tend to be higher in the first part of a year. In the past two years, the first six calendar months have seen 51.6% of the total filings for the year. Thus, just under 400,000 filings for the first six months of a calendar year would imply about 774,000 filings for the entire year.

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Eleven Years

posted by Bob Lawless

Section 1111The number eleven has a lot of significance in the bankruptcy world. The Bankruptcy Code is, of course, title 11 of the United States Code. There is chapter 11. And, within chapter 11, one can make the eleven-eleven election under section 1111 -- an election that is as difficult to explain in a bankruptcy classroom as it is to understand it.

The number eleven has new significance. Credit Slips launched on this date in 2006, making us eleven years old today. I hope that doesn't mean we have to repeat middle school.

I Also Do Weddings

posted by Stephen Lubben

Blog administrator's note: I hope Stephen does not get mad at me, but I have moved the video "below the fold" as it wants to autoplay whenever Credit Slips loads. Click on the "continue reading" link to see a CBS video featuring Stephen and problems from the Alfred Angelo bankruptcy with women who may not get their wedding dresses.

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CFPB Arbitration Rulemaking--and Potential FSOC Veto

posted by Adam Levitin

Today the CFPB finalized the most important rulemaking it has undertaken to date.  This rulemaking substantially restricts consumer financial service providers' ability to prevent consumer class actions by forcing consumers into individual arbitrations. I believe this is by far the most important rulemaking undertaken by the CFPB because it affects practices across the consumer finance space (other than mortgages, where arbitration clauses are already prohibited by statute). 

Let's be clear--the issue has never really been about arbitration vs. judicial adjudication.  It's always been about whether consumers could bring class actions.  I don't want to rehash the merits of that here other than to say that the prevention of class actions is effectively a license for businesses with sticky consumer relationships to steal small amounts from a large number of people.   For example, am I really going to change my banking relationship (and its direct deposit and automatic bill payment arrangements and convenient branch) over an illegal $15 overcharge?  Rationally, no, I'll lump it, not least because I have no easy way of determining if another bank will do the same thing to me. In a world of profit-maximizing firms, we know what will happen next:  I'll get hit with overcharges right up to my tolerance limit.  Given that consumer finance is largely a business of lots of relatively small dollar transactions, it is tailor made for this problem. Class actions are imperfect procedurally, but they at least reduce the incentive for firms to treat their customers unfairly.  

The financial services industry seems to be circling the wagons for a last ditch defense of arbitration. There appear to be three prongs to the defense strategy.  First, there will be intense lobbying to get Congress to overturn the rulemaking under the Congressional Review Act.  There's a limited window in which that can happen, however, and it will be an uncomfortable vote for members of Congress, particularly with the 2018 election looming.  This one will be an albatross for them.  Second, there's an effort afoot to have the Financial Stability Oversight Council veto the rulemaking.  And finally, if the rule isn't quashed by Congress or the FSOC, there will assuredly be a litigation challenge to the rulemaking. 

I want to focus on the FSOC veto strategy, which has just popped up in the news.  

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Some Further Thoughts on the "CHOICE Act"

posted by Stephen Lubben

Over at Dealb%k.

Dana Gas and an Existential Crisis for Islamic Finance

posted by Jason Kilborn

IslamicartThe very foundations of the Islamic finance world were shaken a few weeks ago when Dana Gas declared that $700 million of its Islamic bonds (sukuk) were invalid and obtained a preliminary injunction against creditor enforcement from a court in the UAE emirate of Sharjah. Like Marblegate on steriods, Dana made this announcement as a prelude to an exchange offer, proposing that creditors accept new, compliant bonds with a return less than half that offered by the earlier issuance.

Dana shockingly claimed that evolving standards of Islamic finance had rendered its earlier bonds unlawful under current interpretation of the Islamic prohibition on interest and the techniques Dana had used to issue bonds carrying an interest-like investment return. I had expected to read that Dana had used an aggressive structure like tawarruq (sometimes called commodity murabahah) that pushed the boundaries of what the Islamic finance world generally countenanced, but no. The structure Dana had used was totally mainstream, a partnership structure called mudarabah. Dana asserted that the mudarabah structure had been superseded by other structures, such as a leasing arrangement called ijarah, though in Islamic law as in other legal families, there are often multiple permissible ways of achieving a goal, not just one. And when an issuer prepares an Islamic finance structure like this, it invariably gets a sign-off from a shariah-compliance board of respected Islamic law experts (sometimes several such boards). For Dana Gas to suggest that its earlier board was wrong to the tune of $700 million, or worse yet that Islamic law had somehow changed in a few years through an abrupt alteration of opinion by the world of respected Islamic scholars is ... troubling.

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Dodd-Frank's "Abusive" Standard: The Dog that Didn't Bark

posted by Adam Levitin

The Trump Treasury Department's Dodd-Frank Act report spends more pages on the CFPB (including mortgage regulation) than on any other issue.  There's a whole bunch of blog posts that one could write about the Treasury report, but I want to limit myself here to one item that has long been on the GOP/industry complaint list about the CFPB:  that its power to proscribe "abusive" acts and practices is a problem because the term "abusive" is novel and undefined and that this creates uncertainty that is chilling economic growth.  Total hooey.  The Treasury's report is a lazy document is totally unconnected to the realities of how the CFPB has operated. It's a shame that some commentators are buying into it

Here's the story of the "abusive" power in a nutshell:  it's the dog that didn't bark.  The CFPB's critics have been complaining about the vagueness of the "abusive" power ever since the Dodd-Frank Act was in the legislative process.  Those arguments didn't hold a lot of water then because the term is defined by statute and has a history (namely HOEPA, the FDCPA, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the FTC's interpretation of "unfair" from 1962 to 1980), and the codification of "unconscionability" in the Uniform Consumer Credit Code.  But we now have the advantage of six years of CFPB enforcement activity to understand how the agency has used this power and what it means. Unfortunately, it seems that no one at Treasury bothered to look through the CFPB's enforcement actions to see how the agency has actually used its power to prosecute "abusive" acts and practices.  I did.  Here's the two things that stand out.  

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