Unbundling Business Bankruptcy Law

posted by Melissa Jacoby

A long-in-process draft article has just become available to be downloaded and read here. Comments remain welcome.  The Weinstein Company bankruptcy features prominently in this draft article. 

Every contract in America contains an invisible exception: different enforcement rules apply if a party files for bankruptcy. Overriding state contract law, chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Code gives bankrupt companies enormous flexibility to decide what to do with its pending contracts. Congress provided this controversial tool to chapter 11 debtors to increase the odds that a company can reorganize. To promote this objective while also preventing abuse and protecting stakeholders, Congress embedded this tool and others in an integrated package deal, including creditor voting. The tool was not meant as a standalone benefit for solvent private parties to pluck from the process for their own benefit, like an apple from a tree.

In recent decades, the chapter 11 package deal has been unbundled in practice, typically on grounds of economic urgency. While scholars and policymakers have attended to the quick going-concern sales of companies featured in unbundled bankruptcies, they have not sufficiently explored the challenges associated with a contract-intensive business.

To help fill that gap, this draft article illustrates how the ad hoc procedures used to manage quick sales of contract-intensive businesses can undercut two major chapter 11 objectives: maximizing economic value and fair distribution. They amount to a wholesale delegation of a substantial federal bankruptcy entitlement to a solvent third party. In addition to the impact on economic value and distribution, this draft article also explores a Constitutional problem with this practice: it arguably exceeds the scope of the federal bankruptcy power.

 

Restructuring Conference Announcement

posted by Mitu Gulati

Announcement that slipsters might be interested in:

Financial Restructuring Roundtable

Call for Papers

The Financial Restructuring Roundtable (formerly the West Coast Bankruptcy Roundtable) will be held in person on April 6, 2023 in New York City. Spearheaded by Tony Casey, Samir Parikh, Robert Rasmussen, and Michael Simkovic, this invitation-only event brings together practitioners, jurists, scholars, and finance industry professionals to discuss important financial restructuring and business law issues. 

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Let's Make Some Crypto Law!

posted by Stephen Lubben

One of the undiscussed consequences of the spate of recent crypto bankruptcies – domestically including Celsius and Voyager – combined with Congress' inability to legislate is that the bankruptcy courts, namely those in the SDNY, will have a chance to make a lot of law regarding crypto.

For example, is Tether a good? (the citation to the UCC is odd - that's not actually the law anywhere, right?).

 

3M's Aearo Technologies' Bankruptcy: the Hoosier Hop

posted by Adam Levitin

3M's earphone subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, filed for bankruptcy today in the Southern District of Indiana. This is looking like a really interesting case: it looks like a new generation of the Texas Two-Step strategy. Let's call it the Hoosier Hop. Here's the story.

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Do Investors Really Prefer Putin’s Booby Trapped Bonds?

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati

We have written before about the “Alternative Payment Currency” clause in some Russian bonds, the one that allows for payment in rubles if, for “reasons beyond its control,” the government can’t pay in dollars or euros (or a subset of alternative currencies). Our general take on the clause was that it is a bit odious. That’s because we viewed it as way for investors to subsidize bad behavior by the Russian government. If the Russian government gets sanctioned, investors will help it out by taking on the currency risk associated with being paid in rubles. And we were not the only ones. Jonathan Wheatley of the FT, writing in 2018, when these clauses were introduced, quoted an investor this way:

“I cannot understand why any foreigner would take the risk of being paid out in roubles,” said one London-based asset manager, adding that many foreigners were likely to buy the bonds without reading the prospectus thoroughly.

Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas producing giant, also began using these ruble option clauses in its foreign currency bonds at roughly the same time (here). Importantly, for our purposes, it was clear to all involved at the outset that these clauses were put in place in anticipation of western sanctions in the event that Russia were to engage in misbehavior (e.g., invading neighbors).

From first principles, we would have assumed a bond with this APC clause would be viewed as relatively unattractive compared to a bond that required payment in dollars or euros. Bonds denominated in foreign currency protect investors from the risk of devaluation in the borrower’s currency. If investors are less willing to lend in domestic currency, that should make the cost of borrowing in foreign currency lower. If one looks at broad trends over time, that’s mostly what we see. Poorer and lower-rated countries do seem to pay more to borrow in local currency than in foreign currency (here). By contrast, rich, highly-rated sovereign issuers borrow pretty much only in their local currency.

Moreover, the APC clause could be invoked opportunistically by the Russian government in circumstances where it isn’t actually impossible to pay investors in hard currency. That risk is probably small for a country with a long-standing reputation for good behavior vis-à-vis its obligations to the rest of the world such as the Netherlands or Germany.  But would anyone put Russia in that category, especially Russia under Putin after its repeated and extreme violations of international obligations? A clause that allows misbehavior by a counterparty known for its willingness to misbehave should make these bonds less valuable. Indeed, we’ve seen just that with Argentina after it engages in shenanigans vis-à-vis bondholders (here).

Given these principles, here is what we would have predicted:

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