Where's the Bear?

posted by Adam Levitin

For all of the attention that has been given to the Fearless Girl and Charging Bull statues on Wall Street, I've been marveling at what's missing from the picture:  a bear. It's not just that an ursine addition adds whimsy to virtually everything. It's what its absence says about our market culture. 

The bull, of course, is the symbol of a rising market, the bear, a falling one. And Americans love bulls and hate bears.  When they "do the numbers" on the news (the biggest waste of airtime), it's always a good thing when markets are up, and bad when they're down.  This is idiotic.  We should want market prices to be right, which should mean an indifference between short and long positions.  I love the Fearless Girl statue, but if we're telling a market story, not a gender equality story, then the Charging Bull should be faced off by a Roaring Bear.  

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Judge Selection in Municipal Bankruptcy and PROMESA

posted by Melissa Jacoby

In light of the timeline on the Puerto Rico debt situation, I have just posted on SSRN a contribution to the ABLJ/ABA symposium last fall. The paper examines PROMESA's judicial selection requirements applicable to a Puerto Rico Title III filing (the equivalent of a bankruptcy), and puts them in the context of municipal bankruptcy history.  This paper can be downloaded here.

Thoughts and Frustrations – Jevic

posted by Stephen Lubben

Over at Dealb%k.

Global Preferences

posted by Jay Lawrence Westbrook

An important opinion by one of our most knowledgeable bankruptcy judges, Judge Bernstein in Manhattan, may have reached the right result by the wrong path in deciding if a foreign debtor’s Chapter 7 trustee can avoid a foreign transfer to a foreign creditor. In re Ampal-American Israel Corp., 562 B.R. 601 (2017) (Ampal). Because the opinion’s reasoning may seriously weaken section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code, it is worth imposing on the reader’s time for a brief analysis.

Ampal, a corporation organized in the United States but operated in Israel, filed a Chapter 11 case that was converted to Chapter 7. The trustee sought to recover a preference paid through a bank in Israel to its Tel Aviv law firm. The company’s only substantial business connection with the United States was its listing on NASDAQ. The court held that section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code did not apply, which was very likely correct. (The trustee apparently did not seek to apply Israeli law.)

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Secured Transactions in the Funny Pages

posted by Bob Lawless

From the always wonderful Pearls Before Swine, some humor for the secured lending crowd.

New Report on Car Insurance Redlining

posted by Pamela Foohey

Empirical studies have shown that minorities pay more for goods and services, and that they pay more to finance their purchases of those goods and services -- for instance, through subprime home and auto loans. Machine Bias, a new study from ProPublica and Consumer Reports, adds car insurance premiums to the list of what minorities can expect to pay more for. The study uses zip codes to analyze auto insurance premiums and payouts in four states, California, Illinois, Texas, and Missouri. It finds that major insurers charge up to 30% more in minority neighborhoods as compared to white neighborhoods with the same risk profile. The results mean that where someone lives matters even more, and could have devastating consequences on upward mobility. When faced with budget-busting car insurance bills, do people give up the cars they need to get to work? Or do they go out without necessities, such as food and medicine, so they can pay their car insurance premiums?

Katie, Remember Us When

posted by Bob Lawless

It is with incredibly mixed feelings that I pass along to our readers that Professor Katie Porter is leaving our blog. Katie was one of the original bloggers on Credit Slips back in 2006. There were a number of us who were working together in an intensive data-collection phase of a research project, and a blog was a great way to have some intellectual interaction that was more than how to word a survey question. It worked and somehow the blog stayed around. Katie's posts are insightful, thought-provoking, and witty. We will miss her contributions.

If we have to lose one of our founding bloggers, it is at least for a very exciting reason. Katie is leaving Credit Slips is to focus her efforts on her recently announced candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives in California's 45th Congressional District. Speaking for myself, I think Katie would be fantastic in Congress. She is whip-smart and a determined advocate for consumers. Former Credit Slips blogger Elizabeth Warren put it succinctly: "Katie is a fighter!" I wish Katie nothing but success in her campaign.

We also have made a change to the way we list our blog contributors. At one time, it made sense to distinguish between more frequent and less frequent contributors. Now, everyone is simply listed as a contributor. This change is long overdue, and I had been meaning to make it for a while. My day job seems to keep interfering with the many ideas I often have to improve the blog.

Foreclosure Crisis Update

posted by Alan White

As the subprime foreclosure crisis grinds down slowly (there are still roughly 3 million pre-crisis subprime mortgages outstanding, many of them delinquent), and the HAMP program sunsets, the time has come to appraise the total damage done. In the ten years from 2007 through the end of 2016, about 6.7 million foreclosure sales were completed, and another 2 million or so short sales and deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure brought the total home losses to about 8.7 million, according to HOPE NOW.

Subprime mortgages accounted for 2 million of those foreclosure sales and perhaps another 500,000 of the stressed sales. The 2.5 million total home losses roughly matches predictions made at the onset of the crisis, and exceed by a considerable number the total number of subprime mortgages made to first-time home buyers from 2000 to 2007. In other words, subprime mortgages subtracted more than they added to home ownership.

The pre-crisis loans are by no means all resolved. About one million active mortgage loans were modified under the HAMP program, meaning that interest rates and payments were reduced for up to five years. Many of those mortgages will face steep rate and payment increases in the coming years, and many are also in negative equity, making sale or refinancing difficult or impossible. A total of around 8 million mortgages were modified under various programs at some point, although a significant portion of those later ended up among the 8 million home losses. The good news is that the number of homes whose mortgage exceeds the market value (underwater or negative equity) has declined from 30% of homes to fewer than 8%. The bad news is that just under 8% of homes are still underwater, a precarious situation that remains historically unprecedented.

These stats and many others can be found in an excellent new monthly housing finance data compendium from the Urban Institute.

More Thoughts on Ukraine

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Having had a few days to digest the ruling awarding summary judgment to the trustee (suing at the direction of the Russian government), I wanted to elaborate on my earlier thoughts about the court's reasoning. As Anna points out, the ruling may be appealed, and in any event the dispute will not be settled for some time. But the recent ruling may be the most significant to come out of the case, so it's worth talking about in a bit more detail. I have already described the defenses Ukraine raised in response to the lawsuit, so I'll skip those details here. In brief, however, Ukraine argued that the loan was made under duress, that the government lacked capacity to enter it, and that the loan included implied terms equivalent to the doctrines of prevention or impracticability--i.e., that Russia implicitly promised not to seek repayment if its own conduct (annexation of Crimea and military intervention in the east) made it difficult or impossible to repay.

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Ukraine's Loss: A Skid, Not a Crash

posted by Anna Gelpern

Mark posted a lucid analysis of Ukraine's loss to Russia in London yesterday (full 107-pp opinion here). The case will surely be appealed, and will drag on for a while, alongside the many other legal, political and military disputes between Russia and Ukraine. It will settle, if ever, as part of a grand-ish bargain between the two countries. For now, neither has any reason to fold, so I am not holding my breath for quick resolution.

While we wait, I wanted to think about what this ruling might mean for sovereign debt workouts, and for Ukraine's recently-restructured bonds.

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Consumer Rights to Know Regarding Adverse Action

posted by Adam Levitin

Four core federal consumer financial laws—the Truth in Lending Act (and Reg Z), the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (and Reg E), the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (and Reg X) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (and Reg B)—all have a mechanism whereby a consumer has a right to know why a financial institution denied a claim of an error or a credit application.  I've often puzzled over how much work these provisions really do--TILA and EFTA and RESPA are attempts at informal dispute resolution, while ECOA is a way of policing discriminatory lending (if the creditor cannot come up with a plausible reason for the denial, there's a problem).  But at the end of the day, there's no guaranty of any relief for consumers from these provisions.  

Today, however, I started to understand these provisions better because of the mess that's going on with student loan forgiveness.  The federal government has a major loan forgiveness program for those who work 10 years in public service or at non-profits. Apparently some applications for loan forgiveness eligibility have been denied without any explanation. That really puts borrowers at a loss--they can't tell if the problem is simply a missing form or incorrect paperwork or that they truly aren't eligible or that's the government's loan servicing agent has made a mistake.  That's a pretty awful situation because without more information, a consumer cannot figure out if there's a simple, low-cost way to resolve the issue, if the only solution is through litigation, or if the consumer is truly in the wrong.  

On a related note, the potential revocability of the loan forgiveness eligibility letters strikes me as teeing up the mother of all promissory estoppel cases. 

Ukraine's Defenses to Russian Bond Claims Rejected

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The judge hearing Russia's lawsuit to enforce its $3 billion loan to Ukraine issued an opinion today, rejecting Ukraine's defenses to the lawsuit. Bloomberg and the Financial Times both have coverage of the decision. We've discussed the loan quite a bit here on Credit Slips, and also Ukraine's defenses to enforcement (e.g., here, and here, and here). The lawsuit is fascinating, in part because Ukraine's defenses ask the judge to use traditional contract law doctrines to police what is clearly an international dispute between sovereigns who have been engaged in armed conflict. As I have explained in more detail elsewhere, Ukraine's contract-law arguments were actually quite plausible, though by no means a sure thing. Among others, the defenses included duress (always a bit of a stretch, in my view), lack of capacity, and what would typically be called prevention and impracticability under U.S. law (characterized as implied terms of the contract by Ukraine).

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Supreme Court Strikes Down State No-Surcharge Law

posted by Adam Levitin

The Supreme Court ruled today in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman.  The Court unanimously ruled for the merchant plaintiff that was challenging New York State's no-surcharge law on the basis that a law criminalizing credit surcharges (but not cash discounts) was impermissibly vague.  The Court declined to rule on the plaintiff's First Amendment challenge because the Second Circuit Court of Appeals had held that New York law regulated conduct, not speech, so the Court of Appeals had never considered whether there was a First Amendment violation if the pricing was a form of speech.  The Supreme Court determined that the law regulates speech and remanded the First Amendment issue to the Court of Appeals.  

Five Justices were on the majority opinion with a pair of concurrences driven by procedural concerns (Alito + Sotomayor) or a fear that the case will be used as a precedent for attacking economic regulation via the First Amendment (Breyer).  

Technically the opinion is narrow, as it addressed only an as-applied challenge based on a pricing regime in which two prices are simultaneously listed, with neither labeled a surcharge or discount, but I suspect that the effect of the opinion will be much broader.  If, on remand, the plaintiff's First Amendment argument is accepted (and I suspect it will be), the opinion will be pretty important in terms of development of payment systems.  Prior to today there were two obstacles to effective price discipline on consumer payment choice:  state no-surcharge laws and credit card networks' merchant rules.  The state no-surcharge laws are gone now, leaving only the card networks' merchant rules.  MasterCard and Visa had previously agreed to substantially rollback their rules on surcharging in an overturned class action settlement.  It's going to be hard for them to argue against making that concession now, unless they are willing to admit that it wasn't previously made in good faith because they knew that surcharging wouldn't be used on any scale in the presence of state no-surcharge laws.  

Congratulations to Deepak Gupta, who quarterbacked this litigation!  

Jevic Commentary

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Just a cross-posting note: Jonathan Lipson and I comment on the U.S. Supreme Court's Jevic decision at the Harvard Law School Corporate Bankruptcy Roundtable.

$45 Million for Stay Violations

posted by Alan White

How much in punitive damages is enough to punish unlawful conduct and deter its repetition? $45 million was one bankruptcy court's opinion, in the case of a wrongful home foreclosure and eviction in knowing violation of the automatic stay.

The court described the plaintiff-debtors’ treatment by defendant Bank of America as Kafkaesque, and found their deeply emotional testimony (one of them attempted suicide during the ordeal) completely credible, awarding more than $1 million in actual damages for the loss of housing and emotional distress. The court also noted that Bank of America had repeatedly settled cases with federal and state regulators for hundreds of millions, and even billions, of dollars, in recognition of serious and repeated compliance failures, including some related directly to servicing home mortgages.  

The fascinating 107-page opinion grapples at length with the dilemma of awarding enough punitive damages to effectively deter the defendant while avoiding an unseemly windfall to the plaintiffs. The solution: the decision awards $40 of the $45 million punitive award to consumer advocacy organizations and the five public California law schools. Citing an Ohio case, state statutes and several law review articles, the court proposes this split award technique as an appropriate step forward in the federal common law of §362(k) punitive damages. An interesting appeal is sure to follow.

Inter-Creditor Duties in Sovereign Debt

posted by Mark Weidemaier

This is a joint post by Mitu Gulati and Mark Weidemaier

As we discussed in a couple of earlier posts, we have been thinking recently about the use of exit consents to restructure sovereign debt, especially in the context of Venezuela and PDVSA, the state oil company. Though focused on corporate workouts, Bill Bratton and Adam Levitin's new paper, The New Bond Workouts, raises questions that also matter in the sovereign context. Bratton and Levitin give a detailed account of the Second Circuit's Marblegate opinion, a 2-1 decision that seems to authorize very aggressive use of the exit consent technique. (Creditors were essentially given a choice between accepting the restructuring plan or being left with claims against an entity that was nothing more than an empty shell.) Bratton and Levitin generally approve of the Second Circuit's decision, but also suggest that courts should revive the doctrine of intercreditor good faith to police against coercive workouts of bond debt.

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