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US Courts Data on Bankruptcy Filings . . . From March

posted by Bob Lawless

On Wednesday, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts ("AO") released quarterly filing statistics -- for the quarter ended in MARCH! They're getting a little bit better. As reported in an earlier blog post, the AO had been releasing quarterly statistics later and later. The last round of quarterly statistics were released 107 days after the end of the quarter. These latest statistics were released 88 days after the end of the quarter. Of course, we are almost now at the end of the second quarter of the calendar year, meaning statistics from the first quarter are now likely overtaken by other events.

Whatever value comes from these stale filing statistics gets lost amidst the misleading bureaucratese of the AO's press release. The quarterly press releases always compare the current 12-month filing rate to the filing rate from the previous 12-month filing rate. In this case, the press release compares filings from March 31, 2005 to March 31, 2006 to filings from March 31, 2006 to March 31, 2007. The former period includes the huge surge of filings that occurred as debtors tried to beat the effective date of the 2005 bankruptcy law. The press release mentions that surge but continues throughout to compare filings between the two periods. Hence, the message of the press release is captured in its title, "Bankruptcy Filings Drop 61 Percent in March 2007 12-Month Period." Comparing bankruptcy filings over the two time periods is about the same as comparing the number of persons who consider the West Wing to be their favorite television show today as compared to 2005. They're simply different things going on.

The real story here is that bankruptcy filings in the first quarter of 2007 (193,641) increased dramatically as compared to the first quarter of 2006 (116,771). That was an increase of 65.8%. As I blogged about previously, bankruptcy filings are are on their way to a huge increase for the 2007 calendar year as compared to 2006. Google News had two stories about the bankruptcy filings release, carrying that exact message (and thereby restoring some of my faith in the media). The Birmingham News reported bankruptcy filings jumped 54% in Alabama and ABCMoney UK also reported a big increase in filings across the United States, both ignoring the suggestion in the AO's press release that bankruptcy filings had declined.

I was somewhat surprised to only find two news stories on Google News about the AO's quarterly release, because it usually leads to a spate of stories about filings nationally and within a particular locale. With more current statistics becoming available from sources like AACER, is the quarterly release of stale statistics from the AO becoming a nonstory?


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