265 posts categorized "Sovereign Debt"

Ukraine's Defense: Russian Suit Part of a "Broader Strategy of Aggression"

posted by Mark Weidemaier

It has taken several months, but the Russian Particulars of Claim and Ukraine's Defence (akin to complaint and answer in U.S. civil procedure) have now been filed. Distilled to its essence, Ukraine's response, as the Financial Times notes, is that "if you wanted your money back you should not have invaded our country." Or as Ukraine's lawyers put it in the Defence: "The [Russian] claim forms part of a broader strategy of unlawful and illegitimate economic, political and military aggression ... aimed at frustrating the will of the Ukrainian people to participate in the process of European integration." 

Russia's version of events is straightforward and looks like any other debt case: Russia lent the money, Ukraine committed a breach of contract by not repaying. Ukraine, by contrast, will have a harder time translating its defenses into the dry language of legal doctrine. But it can be done. As I have written here at Credit Slips, and in more detail elsewhere, contract law provides Ukraine with a number of potentially viable arguments. Now that we know the arguments asserted by Ukraine, here are some preliminary thoughts.

Continue reading "Ukraine's Defense: Russian Suit Part of a "Broader Strategy of Aggression"" »

PROMESA and the Recovery Act

posted by Stephen Lubben

It has become something like conventional wisdom that the pending SCOTUS case involving the Recovery Act is no longer relevant. After all, the giant interest payment due July 1 is largely attributable to GO bonds, and the Commonwealth itself is not even subject to the Recovery Act. And the pending PROMESA bill would expressly override the Recovery Act.

Taking the last point first, we should not assume that PROMESA will be enacted before the Supreme Court rules. Indeed, there are many political reasons why Congress – the Senate in particular – might want to wait until the Supreme Court acts before advancing PROMESA. 

Moreover, what the Supreme Court says with regard to the Recovery Act matters. For example, what if they rule that the 1984 addition of section 101's definition of "State" was impermissible, in the way that it treated the Commonwealth? That might render the Recovery Act subject to section 903 preemption, while at the same time allowing Puerto Rico the ability to authorize its municipal entities to file under chapter 9.

That could possibly force some rethinking of PROMESA, although I think we will still see some legislation. The details might change, however, if SCOTUS effectively amends the current Bankruptcy Code.

On the other hand, if the Recovery Act is upheld, what would stop Puerto Rico from expanding it to cover much more of the overall capital structure at issue? And the Recovery Act might serve as a model for a statue that could apply to the Commonwealth itself.

That, of course, might provide further incentives to pass PROMESA.  Quickly.

In short, the Recovery Act is still important, just not in its present form. The current Recovery Act is too narrow to solve very much of the Commonwealth's problems. But what the Supreme Court has to say with regard to the Recovery Act might be very important.

To mention one final point in this regard, what if SCOTUS says that the Commonwealth is unlike other territories? PROMESA purports to be grounded in Congress' power over territories under Article IV, section 3 ...

PROMESA Observations

posted by Stephen Lubben

After taking a look at titles III and VI of the new draft, some quick observations:

  • After some waffling between drafts, it is now clear that title III cases will be heard by district court judges. The judge for a case involving a territory (as opposed to a sub-entity) will be chosen by the Chief Justice. Venue will either be in the territory, or in another place where the oversight board has an office. As I've previously noted, that clearly opens up the possibility of New York.
  • One draft of the bill had incorporated sections 327 et al. regarding professional retention and compensation. I noted that was inconsistent with chapter 9, and incorporation of those sections disappeared in the next draft. Now the new draft has its own professional compensation provision in proposed section 316 (see also section 317).
  • Title VI continues to be a provision that is rather obviously stapled onto the larger bill:  see, for example, section 601, which redefines "Oversight Board" as "Administrative Supervisor" for purposes of Title VI alone.  I have a suggestion:  there is a "find and replace" function in Word ...
  • I continue to worry that title VI's process for splitting bondholders up into various "pools" is a morass waiting to happen, especially given the possibility of competing workout proposals under title VI.
  • That said, much of the "gating" features of the previous versions of title VI are now gone (i.e., it seems it would now be possible to go directly to title III, subject to the oversight board's 5 out of 7 vote).
  • The composition of the oversight board gets more convoluted with each iteration of the bill.

Overall, although the bill is not necessarily "ideal" or "optimal," it seems to at least be making forward progress.  Of course, the Senate has not weighed in at all on this ... at least not publicly. And we should probably expect that even when enacted the bill is apt to be hit with a Recovery Act style Constitutional challenge.

PROMESA Amusement

posted by Stephen Lubben

I'm still working through the new draft of the PROMESA bill, which readers will recall provides new restructuring options for US territories (including Puerto Rico, of course). But I have to say I got a chuckle out of proposed section 303(3), which provides:

unlawful executive orders that alter, amend, or modify rights of holders of any debt of the territory or territorial instrumentality, or that divert funds from one territorial instrumentality to another or to the territory, shall be preempted by this Act.

If the orders are unlawful, do we really need a federal statute to preempt them?

Puerto Rico: Legislative Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

It appears that the House legislation has bogged down.  Two or three issues keep coming up, none of which make a whole lot of sense:

First, "bailouts."  I'm not sure if people making this argument actually believe it or are just using a convenient, politically toxic buzzword. But the claim that extending chapter 9 to include some or all of Puerto Rico constitutes a "bailout" can't really be taken seriously. A bailout involves (a) the use of taxpayer money to (b) help investors avoid realizing risks they voluntarily agreed to take.

Neither is applicable here. Instead, this is the basic insolvency process doing its thing. Namely, losses will be allocated pro rata if bankruptcy applies.  But no taxpayer money is involved, and in no case are investors being saved from their own poor investment choices.

Second, expanding chapter 9 does not raise takings or other scary "retroactivity" problems. If it did, then Congress could never have enacted chapter 9 in the first place. After all, there was no chapter 9 until there was a chapter 9.

More generally, it is quite clear that unsecured bondholders do not have a valid takings claim (under the Fifth Amendment) as a result of the enactment of a new bankruptcy law, in any context. For example, if a secured creditor is owed $1,000 and has a lien on a house worth $400, a new bankruptcy law that discharges the $600 unsecured portion of the claim raises no constitutional issues. That's Congress' power under the Bankruptcy Clause in action. A law that resulted in the creditor obtaining substantially less than $400 on the secured portion might raise a constitutional question, because the secured portion of a claim is "property" for these purposes. But that still does not prevent the rescheduling of secured debt, just the complete elimination of it.

And finally, no, no, no this does not open the door to Illinois filing for chapter 9. Illinois is a state, with full 11th Amendment and 10th Amendment powers. Puerto Rico is a territory of uncertain legal status. Apples ≠ Oranges.

 

Puerto Rico Restructuring Options That Don't Rely on Congress

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The revised draft PROMESA bill (available here) is now under debate in Congress. The bill appears to respond to some early criticisms, although its length and complexity obscures answers to some important questions. Under the circumstances, it seems sensible for the Commonwealth to consider all of its options, including those that do not require Congressional action. These include, as Mitu Gulati and I write in the Financial Times (here, subscription required), changing Puerto Rico's own law in ways that might facilitate a restructuring. 

We asked law students in a class we taught jointly at the University of North Carolina and Duke to consider ways the Commonwealth could restructure without Congressional authorization. Working in groups, they came up with some answers that are both creative and plausible. That doesn't necessarily mean easy or agreeable from the perspective of Commonwealth politicians. Some proposals envision amending Puerto Rico's constitution, while others rely on provisions of Puerto Rico law that authorize collectively binding debt modifications but that haven't been previously applied in this context. The important point, however, is that Puerto Rico may have a wider range of options than many think. The attractiveness of these options is relative. If Congress cannot provide an effective restructuring mechanism that respects the Commonwealth's right to democratic governance, other lawful options will begin to seem more attractive. Two of the student groups have made their work available on-line; their short papers can be found at the links above.

Puerto Rico: PROMESA draft bill, title III revised

posted by Stephen Lubben

I again offer some initial thoughts on the revised draft bill, now subject to much debate in Congress:

  • The bill now clearly provides for reference of cases from the district court to the bankruptcy court
  • There is no longer a requirement that the oversight board have an office in D.C. But the board can have offices outside of the territory it is overseeing. As Jacoby has previously noted, this opens up the possibility that cases could be filed outside of the territory, which for present purposes of course means Puerto Rico. The most obvious locale would be New York, where an board office might make sense for negotiations with bondholders.
  • I don't see a provision comparable to §921(b), which would allow for the selection of a specific judge to preside over the case.
  • The provisions regarding professional compensation and retention are no longer incorporated into title III, so title III becomes more like chapter 9 in this respect.
  • Those parts of chapter 9 that are not incorporated into title III are largely set forth within title III itself – e.g., §§929, 941, 943. Title III is chapter 9+ in all but name. The bill expressly provides that it will not be codified in title 11, however.
  • I wonder if all the implications of the definition of "trustee" in title III to mean "the board" have been thought through. For example, do they intend this to apply with regard to section 926, which is incorporated into title III?
  • The relationship between the board and the debtor during the case generally seems like it will be quite confusing. Under proposed section 315, the board will act on behalf of the debtor throughout the case, but in other instances the bill speaks as though the debtor itself will be taking action in the case.

Puerto Rico: The Commonwealth Plays Hardball

posted by Stephen Lubben

The question is whether it is playing against the House of Representatives, and its heavy handed PROMESA draft bill, or its creditors.

In any event, according to the Financial Times, Puerto Rico's legislature has passed a law giving its governor "the power to declare a state of emergency and halt payments to creditors until January 2017."

There is a long history of these sorts of laws in the United States, most from the Nineteenth Century, although there were a few in the Great Depression too.  Most were eventually struck down as violations of the Contracts Clause, but collection against Puerto Rico itself might run up against whatever sovereign immunity the Commonwealth might posses.

Puerto Rico: PROMESA draft bill, title III (initial thoughts)

posted by Stephen Lubben

Some quick thoughts on the "bankruptcy" part of the proposed bill:

  • If we read Ry. Labor Execs.’ Ass’n v. Gibbons, 455 U.S. 457 (1982) carefully, especially its discussion of the Commerce Clause, I'm not sure it really matters that this is proposed under Congress' territories powers, rather than the Bankruptcy Clause.
  • Proposed title III incorporates all of the same provisions that section 901 of the Code incorporates into chapter 9, other than section 301.
  • The proposed title also incorporates section 327 to 331, so apparently the court will have oversight of professionals under the procedure.
  • Speaking of courts, I see no provisions to move cases under title III to the local bankruptcy court. In short, these cases will stay with the district judges. It's unclear which district, as Jacoby notes.
  • Presumably the lack of a reference concept is driven by the same considerations that keeps the district courts involved in the various proposed "chapter 14" procedures for financial institutions. On the other hand, the district judges in almost every district tend to be from public law backgrounds, and largely have no experience with insolvency law.

So this will be a chapter 9 preceding in all but name, with the oversight board acting for the debtor, whether the debtor likes it or not, in front of district judge who will be reading up on chapter 9 on the fly. In short, we are reinventing the wheel in a new, more complicated way.

Puerto Rico: Debt Restructuring and Takings Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ConstitutionPer the last words of my PROMESA post, click here for an interview with Professor Charles Tabb, who discusses the (limited) impact of the Takings Clause on debt restructuring and moratorium legislation. 

Constitution image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico: PROMESAnkruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

301The House Natural Resources Committee has released draft legislation - with the acroynym PROMESA - in response to Puerto Rico's financial crisis and Speaker Ryan's call for action. The contents continued to shift over the past few days but a recent version is here. PROMESA spans many topics, including an oversight board, employment law, infrastructure, and beyond. Without detracting from the importance of this range of topics, this is Credit Slips, so these initial observations focus on debt restructuring provisions principally housed in Title III of the bill.

  1. PROMESAnkruptcy: The new territorial debt restructuring law would not be in title 11 (home of the Bankruptcy Code). But as shown in the visual, section 301 incorporates many key title 11/Bankruptcy Code provisions, including automatic stay, financing, majority voting rules, cramdown, discharge, and the discharge injunction. Other sections of PROMESA repurpose title 11 provisions with slight tweaks, while still others expressly depart from current bankruptcy law and make new rules. For the lawyers, also note that the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure also apply (section 308). Still, the drafters don't want to call it bankruptcy or chapter 9. Okay. I commend the drafters for recognizing the importance of a mechanism to bind holdouts and I'll call it whatever they want, within reason. PROMESAnkruptcy may sound a little funny, but let's be clear that Puerto Rico's dire situation is no joke. 

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: PROMESAnkruptcy" »

Puerto Rico: The Recovery Act's Potential Second Wind

posted by Melissa Jacoby

 

This post continues the long-running Credit Slips discussion of Puerto Rico's Recovery Act, now the subject of U.S. Supreme Court review in Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust, 15-233, as indicated in Lubben's recent post and in last week's preview. In the video above, posted with permission of the American Bankruptcy Institute, I interview Bill Rochelle, who was at the Supreme Court for oral argument and makes some intriguing predictions on the vote, timing of issuing the opinion, judicial selection, and other matters. A few more reflections below the break.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: The Recovery Act's Potential Second Wind " »

Lessons for Puerto Rico from ... Arkansas?

posted by Jason Kilborn

I did not realize that a US state had defaulted on its bonds, offering a historical comparative example of the difficulties facing Puerto Rico, its creditors, and mostly its citizens if the mess there is not subjected to an orderly, judicially supervised debt cleanup process of some kind. In a new working paper from the Cleveland Fed, O. Emre Ergungor tells the interesting story of the Depression-era default by Arkansas on various road construction bonds and its messy and politically charged path to a workout. A couple of apparent lessons are troubling. First, reaffirming the aphorism that $#!@ rolls downhill, most of the pain was suffered by Arkansas citizens and ordinary creditors, with bondholders pulling every available lever to ensure a soft landing for themselves. Ergungor sums up this lesson nicely: "in the absence of a dedicated judicial process for preserving the governmental functions of a state in debt renegotiations, sovereignty offers meager protections for the interests of the general public." Second, in a prophetic warning about bailouts, Ergungor describes the intervention of the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation to provide liquidity for a refinancing of the workout bonds years later. As one would expect, a Chicago Tribune article took the feds to task for helping Arkansas in this way, insisting that the RFC chief "ought to be willing to to do as much for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and all the rest of the states." I know Illinois would surely appreciate some federal support for its current behemoth pension burden. If the Executive intervenes in the Puerto Rico situation today, will we see another Tribune article like the one that criticized selective federal intervention for Arkansas? Does it matter that, technically, it is Puerto Rico's sub-units that are in distress, not the Territory itself? I struggle to understand even what all the issues are in the Puerto Rico debate, but Ergungor's paper helps me to put at least the financial problems in some useful context.

Puerto Rico: Further Supreme Court Thoughts

posted by Stephen Lubben

So Noah Feldman has a column up on Bloomberg that suggests that section 903(1) of the Code should clearly apply to the Commonwealth. It's a sensible argument, if you read that section entirely in isolation and know nothing about the overall structure of the Bankruptcy Code.

And while I say that intending a bit of the obvious snark – what else could be expected, he’s suggesting that my analysis is essentially daft – it is important to remember that the Supreme Court is not made up of bankruptcy experts. Thus, his column provides a fairly clear analysis of how Puerto Rico might still lose, despite the apparent leanings of the Justices in yesterday’s oral argument.

So if there is a non-frivolous argument for preemption of the Recovery Act, why do I think the Court might still overturn the First Circuit? It could happen one of two ways.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: Further Supreme Court Thoughts" »

Puerto Rico: Supreme Court Argument

posted by Stephen Lubben

The transcript can be found here.  Based on my initial read, it seems like the First Circuit might be reversed, which opens up all the issues Jacoby noted earlier (namely, will the statute pass Contracts Clause review – assuming the Clause even applies to the Commonwealth).

Puerto Rico: Help Still Wanted

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BranchFor the past two weeks, Credit Slips posts have considered the role of the Executive Branch in facilitating a Puerto Rico debt restructuring in the absence of Congressional action. That constraint is hereby relaxed, and thus future posts may well include the role of Congress and the judiciary in various combinations. For example, whatever one's view of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies, they show that the administration can shape a restructuring by working within the framework of formal bankruptcy law. Imagine, for example, that Congress adopts the most modest of the proposals, H.R. 870, which merely fixes the unfortunate exclusion of Puerto Rico municipalities from ordinary chapter 9. The administration could put together post-filing financing packages with the stream of loan proceeds conditioned on the inclusion of various covenants, including those imposing fiscal reforms.  

Meanwhile, March 22 is drawing near. On that date, the United States Supreme Court will review a legal challenge to the Puerto Rico Public Corporation Debt Enforcement and Recovery Act. Below the jump are reminders and new points about the role of this court fight in Puerto Rico's debt crisis and why Congress and the Executive Branch are not off the hook. 

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: Help Still Wanted" »

Puerto Rico: Colonial Chickens, Structural Priority, and Contingent Debt

posted by Anna Gelpern

It has been a humbling torrent of creativity, and I am honored to chip in a tuppence at the eleventh hour. After an existential preface, I consider how one might use (or resist using) federal credit enhancement in the inevitable debt exchange.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: Colonial Chickens, Structural Priority, and Contingent Debt" »

Puerto Rico: LoPucki's Virtual Bankruptcy Proposal

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Hard to believe it has been over a year since a creditor representative opposing H.R. 870 characterized chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy as "the Wild West" in Congressional testimony. Whatever uncertainties bankruptcy law contains (and, sure, they are not trivial), our symposium reveals that the true legal wilderness in government debt restructuring lies beyond the boundaries of title 11. 

Enriching the collective brainstorm is a proposal by the always-innovative UCLA law professor Lynn M. LoPucki published in the Huffington Post. Here's the link, and here's a quote:  

LoPuckiVirtual9

 

 

 

 

 

The full story offers plenty of caveats and risks for creditors - including that this approach could be considerably less protective of creditors' interests than bankruptcy - so do read the whole thing. Although the piece does not expressly mention the Executive Branch, prior Credit Slips posts (such as here) have illustrated the potential combination of the Administration's use of soft powers to promote restructuring efforts formally initiated by Puerto Rico - again, potentially without the creditor protections normally associated with bankruptcy and without other pieces of financial reform that many have advocated. 

 

 

[UPDATED] Puerto Rico: More Views, Including on the Role of the Obama Administration

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Watch here at 1pm ET to see former Treasury official Brad Setser, now senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, talk about Puerto Rico (along with Cate Long, Dick Ravitch, and Aaron Kuriloff). [March 9 UPDATE: transcript available here]

Read here for proposals of Puerto Rico governor candidate Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, including Treasury assisting with interim financing, with an analogy to GM and Chrysler during the 2008 financial crisis (see point 6 in the document).

[March 9 UPDATE: lest anyone need reminding of what can happen when a majority of creditors cannot bind holdouts, check out Anna Gelpern's recent assessment of the Argentina settlement]  

 

Puerto Rico: The Multiple Issuer Problem

posted by Adam Levitin

One problem complicating any resolution of Puerto Rico's financial distress is that there are a multiplicity of issuers. There are separate claims on separate issuers, and it won't work to resolve just some of them, as they are all ultimately drawing on the same set of economic resources.  While there are claims on different assets, they value of those assets derive from Puerto Rico's overall economic production.  This multiple debtor problem makes Puerto Rico materially different from, say Detroit, where there was one primary debtor (the City of Detroit). (I don't know the legal status of Detroit Public Schools--is it separate from the City, the way the Chicago Public Schools are?) As far as I'm aware, Chapter 9 filings have almost always been single entity filings, rather than filings of multiple associated cases, as occurs with Chapter 11. 

So what can be done to deal with the multiple issuer problem? Even if Puerto Rico were allowed to file for bankruptcy (or its various sub-territorial entities were allowed to file), it doesn't solve the problem. While there can be multiple bankruptcy filings and the different cases can be administratively consolidated, that is a very different thing that actual consolidation of debtors, and the inability to resolve claims on one debtor can hold the other cases hostage.  It doesn't do any good to resolve the general obligation debt if creditors can force the electric utility to raise prices through the roof.  With this sort of multiple entity case, the hostage value held by creditors increases significantly.

Puerto Rico's division of governmental authority into various government units is a form of asset partitioning.  This asset partitioning might have helped Puerto Rico get more credit than it should have on cheaper terms ex ante (for a model, see here), but ex post this sort of asset partitioning can blow up in a debtor's face if there is no way to reconsolidate in order to restructure. (Consider, for example, the value of the LA Dodgers without their stadium and without the parking lots by the stadium.) Partitioning via devolution of authority to multiple local government units and authorities is a more permanently binding form of asset partitioning than corporate subsidiaries or even than some securitization arrangements.

Below I present three ideas for how to resolve the multiple issuer problem: consolidation via exchange offer; consolidation via merger; and consolidation via the creation of a common co-issuer entity that is bankruptcy eligible.  

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: The Multiple Issuer Problem" »

Puerto Rico Symposium: Of Wills and Ways

posted by Melissa Jacoby

JigsawDebt relief without Congress? No one promised it would be pretty.  

Our brainstorm (remember the ground rules) has included Levitin's MacGyver-inspired local currency, eminent domain, and liberally-interpreted exchange stabilization, Weidemaier's use of COFINA doubts to wedge open the door for a Executive Branch/Puerto Rico partnership, and, thanks to economist Arturo Estrella, a long menu of options with examples, summarized succinctly as "where there is a will, there is a way" (p. 1) (english report at bottom of this page). Could the federal government underwrite new bonds in an exchange offer, asks Pottow? Be the mediator with a big stick, asks Lubben?  Might a holdout creditor be liable to shareholders if it rebuffed a reasonable deal, asks Jiménez? (scroll to the comments). Marc Joffe notes the potential analogy of the City of Hercules tender offer (as well as the fact that Levitin's local currency suggestion has a history from the Depression). 

Lawless reminds us of the risks associated with discriminatory treatment of Puerto Rico's debt and access to legal tools. Of course, there is a long history here. Maria de los Angeles Trigo points to UT professor Bartholomew Sparrow's study of the Insular cases. And while most expect debt relief will be conditioned on some sort of fiscal oversight, it needs to be designed in a way to avoid the foibles of the past.

Returning to Lubben's mediation theme, let's push the brainstorming a step farther: could Treasury appoint a federal judge, such as Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen (E.D. Mich.), to oversee the mediation, and demand that all creditors participate in good faith until released? Even in the absence of legal authority for this move, would creditors formally object or fail to show up? 

Thanks to participants and readers for active involvement so far, and please keep your thoughts and reactions coming this way.  

Puzzle photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Puerto Rico: Facilitate an Exchange Offer, Now

posted by Stephen Lubben

Jacoby asks what can the Executive Branch do to help out Puerto Rico.  The most practical thing it could do, right now, is to facilitate an exchange offer.  Whether the Treasury itself can act as a mediator, or at least facilitate mediation by some outsider, this seems like the quickest way to a real solution to the near-term problems the Commonwealth faces.  Treasury might also act as an overseer of reforms and a (comparatively) neutral voice with regard to Puerto Rico’s financial information.

Yes, it would be great to resolve the Commonwealth’s awkward legal status – and maybe, just maybe the Supreme Court will do that this term.  Or at least start the process.  But long before that can happen, Puerto Rico is facing potential defaults.  Those need to be addressed right now.  If the Executive Branch can facilitate the negotiation of a comprehensive exchange offer, the Commonwealth will gain time to solve those bigger, long term issues.

Puerto Rico: Eminent Domain, Greenbacks, and the Exchange Stabilization Fund--Some Outside-the-Box Musings

posted by Adam Levitin
The Puerto Rico situation feels a little like a McGuyver episode.  How do we get out of a locked room with only a rubber band and a toothpick?  Here are some half-baked thoughts, first on the nature of the problems and then some ideas for solutions.  

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: Eminent Domain, Greenbacks, and the Exchange Stabilization Fund--Some Outside-the-Box Musings" »

Puerto Rico And (Very) Soft Executive Power

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Melissa's post asked what the executive branch could do to facilitate restructuring of Puerto Rico's debt. I'll get to that, but I first want to talk about Puerto Rico itself. At first glance, the Commonwealth seems to be in a uniquely terrible position. It has the disadvantages of a sovereign (e.g., no bankruptcy) but lacks the advantages (e.g., legal and/or practical immunity from legal enforcement). In fact, it lacks only most of the advantages. One advantage of sovereignty it does enjoy--and that many "true" sovereign borrowers are obliged to forego when they borrow--is that much of its debt is governed by its own law. That law can be changed (subject to constraints in the U.S. constitution) or interpreted in ways that give the Commonwealth needed restructuring flexibility. 

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Credit Slips Presents: A Virtual Symposium on Puerto Rico

posted by Melissa Jacoby

TablePuerto Rico debt restructuring legislation is flying fast and furious around Congress. But the air contains more than a whiff of defeatism regarding the prospects of passage. Bills vary greatly in substance and scope, and yet apparently the response of powerful creditors is consistent: they want to retain the right to be holdouts and are making that position perfectly clear to our elected representatives.

Credit Slips contributors are no strangers to anti-restructuring advocacy, whether framed as moral hazard or otherwise. To that end, we embark on a virtual symposium inspired by the following question: What could the Executive Branch do to facilitate the restructuring of government debt in Puerto Rico absent Congressional action? 

On tap to brainstorm around this theme in the next two weeks are (in alphabetical order): Anna Gelpern, Melissa Jacoby, Bob Lawless, Adam Levitin, Stephen Lubben, Katherine Porter, John Pottow, Mark Weidemaier, and Jay Westbrook.

Continue reading "Credit Slips Presents: A Virtual Symposium on Puerto Rico" »

Argentina and the Holdouts Reach a Deal

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The title pretty much sums it up, but this fastFT article gives a few details. The short of it: $4.65 billion to the group of holdouts led by NML (a roughly 25% haircut, reportedly), with the payment still requiring legislative approval in Argentina.

Pari Passu Closing Ceremonies Quote Parade

posted by Anna Gelpern

Supplementing Mark's post, here are the many magic words, in order of their appearance in the Order ... reliving the saga like it was yesterday.

In 1994, the Republic began issuing bonds pursuant to a Fiscal Agency Agreement (“FAA”), which contains the famed pari passu clause...

Hey, it's not "equal treatment clause" anymore!

Continue reading "Pari Passu Closing Ceremonies Quote Parade" »

And... That's A Wrap. (Maybe?)

posted by Mark Weidemaier

"Put simply, President Macri's election changed everything." So sayeth Judge Griesa, according to Bloomberg, which reports that he will lift the injunction once Argentina repeals laws blocking payment on defaulted debt. Changing "everything," apparently, does not include actually treating creditors equally. But equal treatment is so very 2012. And we're beyond that now, aren't we?

Lifting the injunction doesn't, of course, make the claims asserted by NML et al. go away.* But it will dramatically reduce their leverage, presumably producing a settlement on or near the terms most recently offered by Argentina. And if there isn't a particularly good reason to lift the injunction--one rejected settlement offer is hardly my definition of "everything"--there was never a particularly good reason to enter it in the first place. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

[Edit: Because the injunctions are on appeal, the appeals will have to be remanded back to the district court before the order lifting the injunctions take effect.] 

Pari Passu Endgames: Now With Even More Unequal Treatment!

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The ending of the pari passu saga was destined to be somewhat messy, if only because it would force the court to confront the fundamental illogic of the injunction. If we accept that each holder of bonds untendered in the 2005 and 2010 exchanges has a contractual right to equal treatment, then any settlement with less than 100% participation can be blocked by holdouts, who are, after all, denied equal treatment when settling bondholders get paid. And there are further wrinkles. For example, Argentina's current settlement proposal treats holdouts with injunctions differently from holdouts without injunctions, and this too is incompatible with equal treatment. (The equal treatment obligation stems from the underlying bond contract, not from the injunction...) Of course, nothing prevents bondholders from agreeing to accept unequal treatment. But a holder that rejects the settlement would have an additional reason to complain.

Continue reading "Pari Passu Endgames: Now With Even More Unequal Treatment!" »

Russia Files Lawsuit Against Ukraine

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Reports indicate that Russia has filed a lawsuit against Ukraine to collect on its $3 billion debt--not in arbitration, as early signs had indicated, but in the High Court in London. Not much in the way of further details yet, but the fact that the case will be heard in court, rather than under the rules of the London Court of International Arbitration, means the proceedings will be at least somewhat more transparent. As I wrote previously here on Credit Slips, and discuss more extensively here, the case will turn in part on whether the broader political and military conflict between the two governments can be translated into terms recognizable as defenses under contract law, including the defenses of prevention, impracticability, etc. I think Ukraine has plausible--though far from certain--arguments here. Anyway, more to come as the case develops...

Argentina's Settlement Negotiations and Lifting the Injunction

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Shutterstock_286798478Argentina faces a complicated task in settling with its remaining holdouts, but there has been recent progress. The country has agreed to settlement terms with a large group of Italian bondholders and, most recently, several US hedge funds. The remaining barrier to complete resolution is the same as the old barrier: Elliott's NML Capital and assorted other holdouts. Bloomberg has two good explanations of the remaining issues here (by Katia Porzecanski and Chiara Vasarri) and here (by Matt Levine). The short version is that NML cleverly bought a subset of Argentine bonds that accrue pre-judgment interest (on principal) at extraordinarily high rates. Because of this, the settlement terms offered by Argentina are less favorable to them than to other holdouts. Elliott et al.'s rejection of Argentina's proposed settlement has prompted some speculation that Judge Griesa might be tempted to lift the injunction (thereby pressuring the remaining holdouts to compromise). 

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Contract Law and Ukraine's $3 Billion Debt

posted by Mark Weidemaier

The Russian government has announced announced that it plans to initiate legal proceedings against Ukraine by the end of the month to recover the $3 billion in bond debt now in default. It's not yet clear whether the proceedings will be in English courts or in arbitration. Officials in Ukraine say they expect to win. At first glance, that seems like posturing; after all, Ukraine borrowed $3 billion and didn't pay it back. But as it turns out, Ukraine has some pretty decent arguments, which if successful might excuse (or allow it to defer) the obligation to pay. Some of those arguments involve international law, and I'm a bit skeptical that those will succeed. But as I explain in a short new paper, Ukraine's contract-law arguments might fare somewhat better. Here's the abstract to the paper:

Russia has announced that it will initiate proceedings by the end of January (likely in arbitration) to recover the $3 billion debt owed by Ukraine. The Russia-Ukraine dispute is unique in the annals of sovereign debt litigation. It is a politically and militarily fraught conflict wrapped in a garden-variety, English-law contract dispute. The dispute may settle, and if so its resolution will depend largely on political and economic considerations. Yet the resolution will occur in the shadow of basic contract law, which is surprisingly relevant. Indeed, there are a number of plausible arguments available to Ukraine, which, despite the unusual facts, may excuse (or allow it to defer) its obligations to Russia. It would be understandable for judges and arbitrators to hesitate before weighing in on such a politically-charged dispute, but Russia’s insistence on acting like a private creditor leaves little choice.

Initial Thoughts on Venezuela

posted by Stephen Lubben

Over at Dealb%k.

IMF Reverses Policy on Lending into Official Arrears

posted by Mark Weidemaier

So the shoe has finally dropped. IMF policy has been not to lend to countries that have arrears to official creditors. I have long thought the IMF should (and would) depart from its policy in the case of Ukraine's debt to Russia, which was structured in a fairly transparent effort to capture the benefits of both private and official lending. Whether or not one approves of Russia's motives or techniques in structuring the loan, it seems clear to me that the IMF should not allow its policies to be held hostage in this case. 

News reports now indicate that the IMF has switched course. More details to follow, but it seems like this is a general shift in policy rather than (as Mitu Gulati and I suggested in the post linked above) a one-off exception applicable only to the Russian debt. The shift has been in the works for a while and was suggested in an IMF staff report in 2013. Still, it's a pretty big deal for IMF board members to approve. Official creditors generally like to have a veto over Fund decisions, even if they don't always like the consequences of the veto in particular cases.

Puerto Rico: A Flash of Federal Ambition

posted by Anna Gelpern

After months of fielding criticism for standing idly by while Puerto Rico sank under a $72 billion debt heap, the Obama Administration is getting creative. On October 21, the U.S. Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Economic Council released a joint proposal for federal bankruptcy legislation to restructure all of Puerto Rico’s debts. Debt relief would come in exchange for fairly intrusive federal oversight, combined with Medicaid reform and federal tax relief to help mend the island’s fraying social safety net.

Continue reading "Puerto Rico: A Flash of Federal Ambition" »

Municipal Bankruptcy After Detroit

posted by Melissa Jacoby

ArrowsA new commentary stemming from my draft article Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy is now posted on the Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog. The post frames the current skirmishes over other municipalities' access to chapter 9 at least in part as a referendum on the procedural tools used by the court to supervise the Detroit bankruptcy. For two prior Credit Slips posts on the article, see here and here.

Arrow image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Sovereign Debt Through the Lens of Consumer Debt

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Sovereign debt has traditionally been contrasted with corporate debt. Unlike corporations, sovereigns are immune from suit and asset seizure. Unlike corporations, sovereigns can't reliable promise a lender that it will have seniority over other lenders. Unlike corporations, sovereigns can't access bankruptcy. These and other distinctions drive much of the policy and academic thinking about sovereign debt.

But perhaps there are also lessons to be learned from consumer lending. This new paper by Susan Block-Lieb at Fordham (abstract below) suggests that consumer debt may be a more helpful analogy, one with important policy implications. In both the sovereign and consumer context, she points out, lending is primarily income- rather than asset-based. In both contexts, restructuring is difficult primarily because income-based lenders cannot easily distinguish borrowers who will not pay from those who cannot pay. And in both contexts, there are substantial and cumulative incentives towards over-borrowing and over-lending.

The shift in metaphor from corporate to consumer debt has payoffs for policy actors. Perhaps the most important is that it suggests there has been too much focus on the problems associated with debt restructuring, and not enough on the regulation of sovereign loans. Sovereign borrowers, of course, can't be regulated directly. But sovereign lenders, unlike consumer lenders, enjoy almost complete freedom from regulation. Consumer lenders operate in a thick regulatory environment--for example, in some cases a consumer lender's failure to conduct a meaningful pre-loan assessment of the borrower's ability to repay may excuse a subsequent default. By highlighting similarities to consumer debt and regulation, the paper highlights new ways to think about reform in the sovereign debt markets. That's welcome insight in a field where reformers have historically done little more than tinker with contract boilerplate.

Full abstract below the jump:

Continue reading "Sovereign Debt Through the Lens of Consumer Debt" »

Central Bank Alter-Ego Theory Rejected

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Fed resThis ruling, handed down today by the Second Circuit, may spell the end of one phase of the NML litigation. For some time, the plaintiffs have been trying to find a way to seize assets held by Argentina's central bank. Their latest effort sought an order declaring that Banco Central is an alter ego of Argentina, at least insofar as U.S. law is concerned. The effect of such an order would be to eliminate the bank's claim to be treated as a separate legal entity, making it liable for the government's debts. I understand that Banco Central has already moved most if not all of its assets out of the U.S., and earlier Second Circuit rulings already protect funds held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. But the plaintiffs could have taken the order to another country where Banco Central has assets and (conceivably) parlayed it into an order allowing them to attach bank funds. 

This was always a long shot for the plaintiffs. Even if they had gotten their requested relief, officials in other jurisdictions would not be obliged to let them seize bank funds. After today's ruling, though, the plaintiffs face additional practical and legal barriers. Their complaint alleged that Argentina effectively controlled Banco Central by determining who served as an officer of the bank, by borrowing from the bank, and by coordinating with the bank in implementing an inflationary monetary policy. The Second Circuit held that these allegations, even if true, didn't establish that the bank was the government's alter ego. The slippery slope here is fairly obvious. It is common, after all, for there to be a degree of coordination between governments and central bankers. I doubt the Second Circuit was eager to create a precedent that might imply that central bank assets in the United States are at risk. Technically, today's ruling doesn't prevent the plaintiffs from raising the alter ego theory in other jurisdictions (perhaps where the standard for alter ego liability is different). But given today's ruling I would imagine the fight will shift to other fronts.

Puerto Rico Seeks Help From the Supreme Court

posted by Melissa Jacoby

CertPetitionPuerto Rico is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the First Circuit decision that Puerto Rico's Recovery Act is preempted and thus unconstitutional. Here's the petition. In addition to parsing the legal issues, the petition is framed around Puerto Rico's financial emergency, the need for the Supreme Court to step in notwithstanding the lack of circuit split (or even a dissent to the First Circuit ruling). It makes sense that Puerto Rico would challenge a ruling making it harder for the Commonwealth, in a nebulous legal zone, to write laws to solve its problems. The difficulty with the financial crisis framing is that even if (1) the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter, (2) heard the matter quickly, (3) decided the matter quickly, and (4) actually reversed the First Circuit - a chain of tough "even ifs"  - public corporations in Puerto Rico will not be able to start using the law because another formidable constitutional challenge is still alive: whether the Recovery Act can survive scrutiny under the Contracts Clause. That hotly contested fight would be fact intensive in a way that the preemption dispute was not. A fix from the federal government must come from one of the other two branches. Speaking of which, the persuasive argument against H.R. 870/S.1774 continue to be underwhelming. For example, the fact that chapter 9 would not be a complete solution for, say, PREPA, is really beside the point.

If the Supreme Court agreed to review the First Circuit's decision, then fellow Slipster Stephen Lubben's work on Puerto Rico and the Bankruptcy Clause would become even more important than it is already. While I am not on board with Stephen's conclusions regarding preemption, his research and arguments are central to this debate. So check out his article if you haven't already.

More Argentine discovery shenanigans

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Much has been going on, although little has actually happened, in the litigation against Argentina. For instance, the court has allowed the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint seeking an injunction blocking payments on the recently-issued BONAR 2024s (USD-denominated, Argentine law bonds). That may prove important, for it's a step toward blocking Argentina from issuing any foreign currency debt, anywhere within the great orange blob known as "places-that-are-not-New-York." But no injunction yet; Argentina has not yet filed an answer to the complaint. 

Plaintiffs have also continued efforts to find executable Argentine assets. I'm interested in the role that sovereign immunity plays in the debt markets, and a development yesterday captured my attention. Readers may recall that, in a 2014 case involving Argentina, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the extent to which a creditor holding a money judgment can use U.S. discovery rules to force disclosure of a sovereign's assets around the globe. The Court ruled against Argentina, thereby opening the door to potentially expansive discovery into the nature and location of the sovereign's assets worldwide. After losing in the Supreme Court, Argentina persisted in refusing to turn over much of the discovery requested by plaintiffs. Yesterday, the district judge sanctioned Argentina by ordering that "any property of the Republic of Argentina in the United States except diplomatic or military property is deemed to be used for commercial activity." (No paper order is available on the court's docket yet.)

U.S. law permits creditors of a foreign state to seize only assets that are "used for a commercial activity" in the country. The district court's order deems all Argentine assets (other than military or diplomatic assets) to satisfy this criterion. In one sense, this is a complete end-run around the statute. By restricting enforcement to commercial assets, the law minimizes the ability of private creditors to create diplomatic headaches for the U.S. government. On the other hand, the sanctions order is analogous to a so-called adverse inference, where the court treats certain facts as established because the sovereign's discovery misconduct has made the facts impossible to prove. There is some authority for adverse inferences as a sanction for a sovereign's litigation misconduct. Right or wrong, however, the result of yesterday's order is an even wider embargo on Argentina's ability to conduct transactions in the U.S.

Chapter 9 and Federal Courts: The Detroit Blueprint

posted by Melissa Jacoby

BlueprintAmong its other effects, the Puerto Rico debt crisis has dramatically increased the number of public figures and politicians whose verbal repertoire includes the term "chapter 9." Bondholders' resistance to chapter 9 access for Puerto Rico municipalities is fueled in part by an earlier public debt crisis: Detroit. As suggested in my Credit Slips posts, Detroit made some new law but its major lasting legacy is procedural. I just posted a draft article, based on original empirical research, documenting that procedural blueprint, Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy. It shows the paths by which the federal court became a major institutional actor throughout Detroit's restructuring.

After reading scholarship and case law on chapter 9, one might envision that, because of the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and federalism principles, presiding judges are essentially locked in a closet for much of the duration, released only when the parties affirmatively seek an adjudicator. That's never entirely accurate, but to say it is inaccurate regarding Detroit is the understatement of the year.

Although The Detroit Blueprint will have broader ripple effects, I am dubious that its most significant elements could or would be implemented in, say, a PREPA bankruptcy. Detroit should not be an impediment to changing the Bankruptcy Code to cure the wrongful omission of Puerto Rico municipalities. More on that, and additional perspectives from the article, in future posts.  
 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Chapter 9 and Puerto Rico

posted by Stephen Lubben

As Melissa has noted, the First Circuit has found that the Commonwealth's attempt to solve its own problem runs afoul of Congress' "intent" to leave Puerto Rico without a municipal bankruptcy system.

Professor Eichengreen, in an interesting essay on Greece and Puerto Rico, suggests that Congress will fix the problem with the Bankruptcy Code. Word from Washington is somewhat less optimistic.

Puerto Rico Preemption Redux: Back to You, Congress

posted by Melissa Jacoby

1stCircuitCoverOn February 6, 2015, a district court held Puerto Rico's Recovery Act to be expressly preempted by section 903 of the Bankruptcy Code.

On July 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the finding: The Recovery Act is preempted, on both express preemption and conflict preemption grounds. 

Judge Torruella wrote a separate concurrence starting on page 50 of the decision. One of his points bearing special mention here is that he finds unconstitutional the 1984 Bankruptcy Code amendment that stripped Puerto Rico's right to authorize chapter 9 for its municipalities, due to the lack of a rational basis. Had he secured another vote for that view...

Credit Slips contributors surely will weigh in more, in this space or elsewhere, on the decision and  next steps. For now, Congress needs to move on H.R. 870, which now has support in the Senate. H.R. 870 simply reinstates Puerto Rico's ability to authorize its municipalities to use chapter 9, akin to states. Others advocate for bankruptcy relief for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico itself; that proposal is separate from, and considerably more controversial than, H.R. 870.

 

Thoughts on the Greek Referendum and the Democracy Mismatch in Public Debt Crises

posted by Anna Gelpern

Today's Greek referendum might look like a high point for democratic accountability, but it is not. When Greek citizens vote on the demands of their government’s international creditors, the outcome will bind Greek politicians, but not the creditors that have prescribed economic policy for Greece since 2010. Instead, the European institutions and the IMF answer to a complex tangle of constituents outside Greece, including taxpayers in other countries that stand to lose money if Greece fails to pay its debts, and those who would suffer shock-waves from Greece abandoning the euro as its currency.

This democracy mismatch can lead to over-lending and over-borrowing based on flawed policies and improbable assumptions, which might have been rejected if the creditors had a more direct stake in the consequences of their prescriptions for Greece from the start. Tying a small portion of debt repayment to policy outcomes would improve accountability and help align incentives for the borrowing government and its creditors alike.

Continue reading "Thoughts on the Greek Referendum and the Democracy Mismatch in Public Debt Crises" »

Catching Up

posted by Stephen Lubben

So I've been off the grid for a few weeks, and of course after months of little to talk about, the world gave us a bounty of stories about financial distress, and related topics, each of which would merit its own post. But I'm going to hit them quickly to get caught up again this holiday weekend:

  • I've always enjoyed reading Hamilton's Report on Public Credit, which has something of a reorganization plan about it, as well as a good discussion of distressed debt trading. Thus, I'm largely in agreement with those that say that Jackson and not Hamilton should go to free up space on one of our bills. But what about having two types of bill in each denomination? Harriet Tubman on some dollar bills, with Washington on the others, seems about right. 
  • I joined an amicus brief for the loosing side in in Baker Botts, L.L.P. v. ASARCO, L.L.C., the most important case of the term.  (Or maybe not.)  Thus, it will be no surprise that I think the dissent has the better argument. The majority seems to be totally out of touch with the reality of bankruptcy practice, and its opinion seems to be an open invitation for bomb throwers who stop just short of Rule 11. Image
  • Greece in undoubtedly between a rock and a hard place. Its economy is likely to be devastated if it leaves the Euro, at least in the short term, and it certainly will be further devastated by more austerity. Does it really matter which way they vote? The larger EU has to think about precisely what it is trying to achieve here. Yes the current Greek government is a bit buffoonish, but who helped to elect them?
  • Puerto Rico is obviously in quite a similar situation. The most realistic outcome seems to me to be (a) an exchange offer of the Commonwealth debt tied to realistic (non-punitive) reforms and (b) chapter 9 for the utilities. Part "a" of course risks holdout problems – can exit consents do the trick?

That might generate some comments this weekend.

More on AIG: Between Hysteria and Complacency

posted by Anna Gelpern

I agree with Adam about all that post-Starr hyperventilation. No, it does not mean that bailouts are over, that the Fed has been slapped down, or any of that lurid stuff. (Though tabloidness does feel strangely gratifying in financial journalism.) Nevertheless, we should be careful not to dismiss the AIG decision as a realist vignette. Its implications for crisis management will become clearer over time, and may well turn out to be important.

At first blush, Starr feels like a stock crisis move by the Court of Claims, evoking the Gold Clause cases in 1935, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Congress violated the 14th amendment when it stripped gold clauses from U.S. Government debt, but denied Court of Claims jurisdiction because the creditors suffered no damages. Had they gotten the gold, they would have had to hand it right over to the Feds. And if you measured the creditors' suffering in purchasing power terms, getting their nominal dollars back still put them way ahead of where they had been in 1918 thanks to all the deflation.

Putting this history together with Starr, I wonder about two implications. First, it would have to be awfully hard for a firm getting federal rescue funds in a systemic crisis to prove damages. See also the car bailout stuff. By definition, the firm's best case is the gray zone between illiquidity and insolvency (I called it "illiquency" back then). If you accept that a court is unlikely to enjoin a caper like AIG in the middle of a crisis, this gives the government a fair amount of scope to act, even if it turns out to be off on authority after the fact.

Second, the Greek mess makes me think that the real concern in crisis is not with ex ante constraints on bailouts working as planned, but rather with accidental institutional malfunction. At some point (not yet), all the sand in the wheels will create enough friction that policy makers will not be able to respond to a tail event in a sensible way. No institution would have the authority to do "whatever it takes," and no decision-maker would be willing to take the risk. Maybe this is as it should be, but it does give me pause. 

No Evading Illinois Pension Woes

posted by Jason Kilborn

The Illinois Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion this past Friday putting a stake through the heart of the legislature's latest attempt to evade its responsibility for woefully underfunding four of the state's five public pensions. Adam (among others) has discussed the pension issue in the Detroit bankruptcy case and the Michigan constitutional provision protecting pension benefits from impairment. The Illinois Constitution of 1970 has an identical provision (art. XIII, s. 5), which will have much more bite in the case of the state of Illinois--an entity that, unlike Detroit, is not eligible for bankruptcy protection. Long story short: the Supreme Court all but scoffed at the state's arguments that contracts can sometimes be impaired (and the state has a really, really good reason here) and that prohibiting the legislature from reducing vested pension benefits is an impermissible abdication of sovereign authority. The Court pointed out that it wasn't the legislature, but the people of Illinois, who imposed the pension protection restriction ... and it seems now the people will likely have to revisit the idea of vastly increased state income taxes and the like, as "[a]dherence to constitutional requirements often requires significant sacrifice, but our survival as a society depends on it."

I had long wondered why we still see defined-benefit pensions, in either the public or the private sector. It seemed obvious to me that defined-benefit plans are not sustainable and that every retirement protection system needed to switch to defined-contribution plans (like 403(b) and 401(k) retirement savings plans). It turns out that even this "obvious" switch won't necessarily fix the problem prospectively, as this paper reports.

Where's bankruptcy (or some other kind of restructuring) protection when you need it!?

An Arbitration Between Russia and Ukraine?

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Shutterstock_267853262Russia has threatened to take Ukraine to arbitration unless the country pays its $3 billion bond in full. As Anna notes, the bond gives the holder the option to sue in English court or to arbitrate under the rules of the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA). The LCIA is a preeminent international arbitration institution, but the choice of arbitration over litigation is an unusual one in this context. Non-consumer lenders typically prefer litigation to arbitration. As I've shown elsewhere, sovereign lenders share this preference. Arbitration clauses rarely appear in sovereign bonds unless (i) the issuer's internal law forbids it to submit to foreign court jurisdiction (e.g., Brazil, El Salvador) or (in English-law bonds) (ii) the issuer has not agreed to enforce English court judgments but has signed on to the New York Convention, which requires it to enforce foreign arbitration awards. Ukraine falls into the latter camp, and its bonds have traditionally given bondholders the option to arbitrate. (Technically, it's the trustee's option; bondholders cannot demand arbitration. But Russia owns 100% of this issue, and I presume the trustee will do what Russia wants.)

I have not seen the trust deed for the Russian bond so I can't say with 100% certainty how the arbitration clause operates. From the prospectus, however, it seems that the clause is identical to the one in Ukraine's other debt (see par. 25.4-25.7). There is a panel of three arbitrators; each party nominates one, and the parties jointly nominate the third. Most lenders prefer judges in New York or London to this kind of arrangement, which arguably ensures at least one arbitrator receptive to the borrower's arguments. From the lender's perspective, there's nothing to argue about. I lent money; you didn't repay it. (Party-appointed arbitrators are formally independent of the appointing party - see LCIA Rules 7.1 and 5.3-5.5 - but some suspect bias nonetheless.) So why does Russia prefer to arbitrate?

Continue reading "An Arbitration Between Russia and Ukraine?" »

Ukraine's Bond Restructuring: Surgery, Conspiracy, and Campaign

posted by Anna Gelpern

Debt restructuring is the second largest source of outside financing for Ukraine’s new IMF program. The Fund itself brings $17.5 billion over four years; $9.6 billion comes from governments and other multilaterals (including Europe, the United States, and most recently, China), leaving $15.3 billion for the "debt operation." The jargon makes debt restructuring sound like a mix of surgery, conspiracy, and military campaign, which together pretty much sum up Ukraine's challenge.

Continue reading "Ukraine's Bond Restructuring: Surgery, Conspiracy, and Campaign" »

Russia's Bond: It's Official! (... and Private ... and Anything Else It Wants to Be ...)

posted by Anna Gelpern

Ukraine's bond restructuring talks are in high gear, and, as ever, Russia is trouble du jour. Not only is it threatening to hold out in the bond deal and take Ukraine to arbitration, Russia also seems poised to block IMF disbursements to Ukraine using an arcane Fund policy on "lending into arrears." My hunch is that this last risk is overblown, and in any event should not drive IMF policy or Ukraine's restructuring strategy. 

Continue reading "Russia's Bond: It's Official! (... and Private ... and Anything Else It Wants to Be ...)" »

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