14 posts from February 2019

The Curious Persistence of Plan B (Bankruptcy Lite)

posted by Jason Kilborn

I've come across a phenomenon numerous times over the years, again recently, that reveals the purpose of and resistance to discharge as the ultimate solution/relief for bankruptcy. In a discussion of the Chinese Supreme People's Court's struggles with "the enforcement difficulty" (执行难), the writers observe that, if a judgment debtor is found by the court enforcement division to have no available assets against which to collect a judgment, the enforcement action is terminated ... but "the court will automatically check every six months whether the involved judgment debtors have new property." On the one hand, the termination of fruitless enforcement actions sounds something like bankruptcy relief. Assuming the process actually works like this, and assuming the court enforcement division is not overly aggressive in pursuing "new property," this seems to me to take some of the pressure off of the Chinese system to adopt a proper bankruptcy discharge to alleviate the suffering of insolvent judgment debtors. On the other hand, without a discharge, the "checking for new property" part ensures that debtors' incentives to be productive will remain perpetually depressed, and official resources will be perpetually wasted in interminable pursuit of phantom new assets. These debtors' productivity and entrepreneurialism is forever lost to Chinese society in an era in which global competition continues to heat up.

Continue reading "The Curious Persistence of Plan B (Bankruptcy Lite)" »

Deleveraging Is Over

posted by Alan White

An unsustainable run-up in consumer housing debt and other debt was a fundamental structural cause of the 2008 global financial cScreen Shot 2019-02-26 at 11.59.42 AMrisis. Following four years of painfully slow decline, total U.S. consumer debt has now risen back above its 2008 peak, with the growth led by student loan and auto loan debt. Mortgages outstanding are not quite at their 2008 levels, but student loan and auto loan growth more than makes up for the modest home loan deleveraging. Americans are back up to their eyeballs in debt, but now some of the debt burden has shifted from baby boomers to millennials. While the cost of health care may be a key electoral issue for the over-50 crowd, under-40s will be listening for policymakers to offer solutions on student loans.

CDS Strikes Again (Aurelius and Windstream)

posted by Stephen Lubben

Long ago I warned that the growth the of the CDS (credit default swap) market represented a threat to traditional understandings of how workouts and restructurings are supposed to happen. The recent Windstream decision from the SDNY shows that these basic issues are still around, notwithstanding an intervening financial crisis and resulting regulatory reform.

Windstream is a corporate group in the telecommunications sector. In 2013 it issued some senior unsecured notes due in 2023. Under the indenture for those notes, specific legal entities in the Windstream group agreed not to engage in any sale-leaseback transactions, presumably to maintain legal title to the groups’ assets available for the noteholders to collect against.

But the indenture did not prohibit the creation of new affiliated entities, nor did it bind such new entities to the prohibition on sale-leasebacks. Windstream did exactly that – popping up a new holding company to enter into the lease, and dropping down a new REIT subsidiary to be the owner of the leased assets. A clear end-run around the probable “intent” of the parties (whatever that means in the context of a bond indenture), but not against the express terms of the indenture, which legions of New York Court of Appeals decisions suggest is the only place to look for intent when reading an indenture.

Nonetheless, Aurelius Capital Master, Ltd., a fund managed by Aurelius Capital Management, LP and its affiliates, instructed the indenture trustee to bring suit against Windstream for breaching the terms of the indenture. As the holder of more than 25% of the notes, the Aurelius fund was entitled to give the trustee such instructions.

As many Slips readers will already appreciate, Aurelius is well-known in the restructuring community for its fondness for a robust sort of litigation. To put it mildly. And it is alleged that Aurelius has fully hedged its Windstream position with CDS, meaning that it can afford to be quite aggressive, because damage to Windstream will actually increase the value of the CDS position.

I’ll try to condense this as much as possible, but readers can see that we are headed into one of my longest posts in a while …

Continue reading "CDS Strikes Again (Aurelius and Windstream)" »

Alix-McKinsey Update

posted by Stephen Lubben

Lots of news in the restructuring area this week, and I hope to blog about Puerto Rico and Windstream before the week is out. But first, a quick update about everyone's favorite professional retention litigation.

As predicted, arbitration has proved to be somewhat less than satisfying in this matter. We still don't really know if McKinsey violated the Code/Rules on disclosure, and nobody has really addressed why it took the Wall Street Journal to notice that McKinsey's retention applications were extremely light on disclosures, relative to other bankruptcy professionals.

The U.S. Trustee is crowing about the $15 million dollars that McKinsey has agreed to pay – although at $5 million per chapter 11 case, that won't go very far will it?

And McKinsey's press release shows that it has an altogether different take on the settlement agreement:

Following a successful mediation overseen by Judge Marvin Isgur of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, McKinsey & Company has reached an agreement with the United States Trustee Program regarding McKinsey’s prior disclosures in a set of bankruptcy cases from 2001 to 2018. The settlement does not opine in any way on the adequacy of McKinsey’s prior disclosures and, as Judge Isgur noted, the proposed settlement resolves “good faith disputes concerning the application of Bankruptcy Rule 2014.” McKinsey has agreed to this settlement in order to move forward and focus on serving its clients.

In reaching the agreement, McKinsey did not admit that any of its disclosures were insufficient or noncompliant, and the settlement does not in any way constitute an admission of liability or misconduct by McKinsey or any of its employees, officers, directors or agents.

McKinsey thanks Judge Isgur for his help in putting the historical disagreements regarding disclosures with the Trustee behind us. With Judge Isgur’s guidance, this process has also provided additional clarity for the filing of future disclosures. McKinsey will be filing additional disclosures in the Westmoreland case and looks forward to working with the bankruptcy courts to continue to deliver value to debtors and stakeholders.

A New Development on the CAC v. No-CAC Question in Euro Area Sovereign Bonds

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mitu Gulati and Mark Weidemaier

We have previously discussed how Euro area sovereign bonds with Collective Action Clauses or CACs (issued after Jan 1, 2013) and without CACs (issued prior to Jan 1, 2013) potentially differ in their vulnerability to debt restructuring. For anyone trying to draw up plans to tackle a future Euro area sovereign debt crisis (e.g., in Italy), it will be crucial to decide whether the CAC and no-CAC bonds are in fact different from a restructuring perspective. Conversely, for investors trying to predict which bonds to avoid and which to buy, the matter is equally important – and indeed, should be reflected in prices (for recent empirical papers, see here, here and here).

Last week, a research note by two Dutch researchers made its way to our desks (via reporters who found the claims intriguing). These researchers, looking into investment treaties entered into by the EU with Singapore, Canada and Vietnam, were concerned about two aspects relevant to future sovereign debt restructurings (among other things). To quote their abstract:

On the eve of the vote in the European parliament on the new investment treaty between Singapore and the European Union, SOMO publishes an analysis on the risks for managing government bonds and money flows. The analysis explains how the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) negatively impacts the policy space the EU, EU member states and Singapore have to manage financial instability and prevent financial crises.

(Note:  As per the Dutch research note, the EU-Singapore Investment Agreement has not been ratified by the EU parliamentary authorities yet). The issues of concern were:

First, the treaty seemed to include government bonds within its ambit (which is not the case in all such bilateral investment treaties).

Second, the treaty has specific vote requirements that differ from other treaties (e.g., 75% in the EU- Singapore agreement; 66.67% in the EU-Canada one) and that, if not followed, allow investors to bring treaty-based claims.

One concern raised by the report is that such treaties – perhaps inadvertently, perhaps intentionally – can make future restructurings of Euro area sovereign bonds harder by granting investors in certain countries additional rights that could enable them to block restructuring attempts.

Here are our preliminary thoughts, focusing on the EU-Singapore treaty:

Continue reading "A New Development on the CAC v. No-CAC Question in Euro Area Sovereign Bonds " »

Arbitration in Bankruptcy -- Discharge, the Easy Case

posted by Bob Lawless

Now that the major work of the ABI Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy is done, I seem to have this thing called "time" again. One of the topics that I have been wanting to post about is arbitration in bankruptcy. If I follow through on my intentions, this will be the first of a few posts on arbitration in bankruptcy.

Arbitration has come to the bankruptcy courts. In the coming years, how the Federal Arbitration Act intersects with the Bankruptcy Code will become an increasingly prominent issue. What I want to talk about in this post is arbitration of a violation of the discharge injunction itself. In the typical factual set-up, a debtor alleges a violation of the discharge injunction, and the creditor moves to send the question to an arbitrator under a predispute arbitration clause, almost always embedded in a form contract. Given the ubiquity of these form contracts in consumer transactions, the only thing at stake is the effectiveness of the consumer bankruptcy system.

We can first exclude one approach to the topic that I occasionally see. It goes something like this. The Supreme Court keeps sending disputes to arbitration and thus has signaled repeatedly it favors arbitration. Therefore, the Court would hold that bankruptcy disputes can be arbitrated. This is not how law works. The Court's tendencies are not "law." One of the Supreme Court justices has famously declared he favors a certain malted beverage, but that hardly makes it the drink of the land (although I also would not be against making it so).

Continue reading "Arbitration in Bankruptcy -- Discharge, the Easy Case" »

ABI Consumer Commission Report Is Nearly Finished

posted by Bob Lawless

For the past two years, the American Bankruptcy Institute's Commission on Consumer Bankruptcy has been hard at work. As the Commission's reporter, I am very happy to say that the work is nearly finished. All of the drafting is completed, and we are in the final stages of the editing process.

The report will be released on April 11. If you want to learn about the report, come to the ABI's Annual Spring Meeting where there will be a number of sessions about the report.

The Commission's charge was to recommend "improvements to the consumer bankruptcy system that can be implemented within its existing structure." The recommendations represent the work of a broad group of bankruptcy professionals across all types of roles and types of practice. The report will have forty-nine sections across five chapters, with multiple recommendations in many of the sections. Although the substance of the recommendations will not be released until April 11, the topic list is public. You can expect recommendations on student loans, attorney compensation, the means test, rights in repossessed collateral, chapter 13 plans as well as many other topics.

Student Loan Servicing Fail (continued)

posted by Alan White

The U.S. Education Department is doing a lousy job of overseeing the private companies servicing $1.1 TRILLION of federal student loans. That is the gist of the Inspector General's findings in a new report. Among other problems, the IG found that servicers were not telling borrowers about available repayment options, and were miscalculating income-based repayment amounts. When USED found these problems, they did not use contractual remedies to force servicers to improve their performance. To quote the report: "by not holding servicers accountable, [USED] could give its servicers the impression that it is not concerned with servicer noncompliance with Federal loan servicing requirements, including protecting borrowers' rights."

Meanwhile, borrowers with 49,669 loans have applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness as of 9/30/2018. 206 borrowers with 423 loans have been approved. So, 99% denial rate.

More Data, Please!

posted by Jason Kilborn

Effective reform requires detailed knowledge of exactly what's being reformed. This is especially true of complex systems like corporate and individual insolvency regimes, with numerous inputs and outputs and carefully counterbalanced policy objectives. Two recent papers accentuate an acute weakness in global insolvency reform development--a lack of reliable and comprehensive data on the operation of existing systems, which will of course infect future planned procedures, as well. The global insolvency team at the IMF notes this problem in the context of its current advisory operations, and Adam Feibelman anticipates this problem with respect to India's developing insolvency and bankruptcy law. Both suggest a solution in more careful attention to data production and tracking. Both papers are interesting reading for those concerned with a more responsible approach to global insolvency policy-making, where for far too long it seems the old joke about empirical analysis has rung true: anecdote is not the singular of data.

New (From the Archives) Paper on Determinants of Personal Bankruptcy

posted by Melissa Jacoby

This working paper is a longitudinal empirical study of lower-income homeowners, including a subset of bankruptcy filers, produced with an interdisciplinary team of cross-campus colleagues, including Professor Roberto Quercia, director of UNC's Center for Community Capital. We just posted this version on SSRN for the first time yesterday in light of continued interest in its questions and findings. The abstract does not give too much detail (see the paper for that), but here it is:

Personal Bankruptcy Decisions Before and After Bankruptcy Reform

Abstract

We examine the personal bankruptcy decisions of lower-income homeowners before and after the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA). Econometric studies suggest that personal bankruptcy is explained by financial gain rather than adverse events, but data constraints have hindered tests of the adverse events hypothesis. Using household level panel data and controlling for the financial benefit of filing, we find that stressors related to cash flow, unexpected expenses, unemployment, health insurance coverage, medical bills, and mortgage delinquencies predict bankruptcy filings a year later. At the federal level, the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform explains a decrease in filings over time in counties that experienced lower filing rates.

New Paper: Consumer Protection After the Global Financial Crisis

posted by Melissa Jacoby

Historian Ed Balleisen and I have just posted a paper of interest to Credit Slips readers who are interested in consumer protection, financial crises, and inputs into post-crisis policymaking more generally. I will let the abstract speak for itself:

Consumer Protection After the Global Financial Crisis

Edward J. Balleisen & Melissa B. Jacoby

Abstract

Like other major events, the Global Financial Crisis generated a large and diffuse body of academic analysis. As part of a broader call for operationalizing the study of crises as policy shocks and resulting responses, which inevitably derail from elegant theories, we examine how regulatory protagonists approached consumer protection after the GFC, guided by six elements that should be considered in any policy shock context. After reviewing the introduction and philosophy of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, created as part of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, we consider four examples of how consumer protection unfolded in the crises’ aftermath that have received less attention. Our case studies investigate a common set of queries. We sought to identify the parties who cared sufficiently about a given issue to engage with it and try to shape policy, as well as the evolving nature of the relevant policy agenda. We also looked for key changes in policy, which could be reflected in various forms—whether establishing an entirely new regulatory agency, formulating novel enforcement strategies, or deflecting policy reforms.


The first of our case studies focuses on operations of the Federal Trade Commission in the GFC’s aftermath. Although the Dodd-Frank Act shifted some obligations toward the CFPB, we find that the FTC continued to worry about and seek to address fraud against consumers. But it tended to focus on shady practices that arose in response to the GFC rather than those that facilitated it. Our second case study examines the Congressional adoption of a carveout from CFPB authority for auto dealers, which resulted from strong lobbying by car companies worried about a cratering sales environment, and the aftermath of the policy. Here, we observe that this carveout allowed a significant amount of troubling auto lending activity to continue and expand, with potentially systemic consequences. Loan servicer misbehavior, particularly in the form of robosigning, is the focus of our third case study. Although Dodd-Frank did not explicitly address robosigning, the new agency it created, the CFPB, was able to draw on its broad authority to address this newly arising problem. And, because the CFPB had authority over student loan servicers, the agency could pivot relatively quickly from the mortgage context to the student loan context. Our fourth and final case study is the rise and fall of Operation Choke Point, an understandably controversial interagency program, convened by the U.S. Department of Justice, which, with the GFC fresh in mind, attempted to curtail fraudulent activities by cutting off access to online payment mechanisms. Here, we see an anti-fraud effort that was particularly vulnerable to a change in presidential administration and political climate because its designers had invested little effort in building public awareness and support for the program.

The Article concludes with an overall assessment and suggestions for other focal points for which our approach would be useful. The examples span a range of other domestic and global policy contexts.

 

 

 

Liked Evicted? -- Read Maid

posted by Pamela Foohey

MaidStephanie Land recently tweeted this depressing statistic: "a single parent would have to work 140 hours a week at minimum wage to pay for basic necessities." And Land would know. Her new memoir -- Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive -- chronicles her time as a single mother working as a house cleaner and just scraping by on the combination of her paycheck and various forms of government assistance. In telling her story of ending up a single mother living in a homeless shelter with effectively no family or friends to turn to for help, of figuring out how to make a little money working insanely hard, and of dealing with the stigma of asking for government "handouts," Land weaves a narrative about life on the financial precipice that sticks with you. And embedded in her story are glimpses into the lives of her clients, through which Land creates portraits of the trials of (usually) better off families who nonetheless struggle in different ways.

In short, read her memoir. It's fantastic. And if you're not totally convinced that you must read it right now, there's more after the jump.

Continue reading "Liked Evicted? -- Read Maid" »

Republic and PDVSA Bonds: No Trades With Friends and Family

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati

A few days ago, we wondered why the U.S. government had constrained U.S. holders of PDVSA debt instruments to sell only to non-U.S. parties. The constraint would likely kill liquidity for these bonds and impose losses on bondholders. But why? And why impose the constraint on PDVSA bonds but not the Republic’s bonds?

On Friday, the Treasury apparently amended the sanctions order to impose the same constraint on the Republic’s bonds. Now these too can only be sold to non-U.S. persons.

But again, why?  Venezuela hasn’t issued new bonds for a while, so why kill the secondary market for existing bonds? 

Here are four possible explanations; we’d be grateful to hear others from readers:

1.    Cut Off Oxygen: Venezuela has made a habit of issuing bonds and then parking them in domestic financial institutions, for later sale when the government is low on cash. Counterparties have been willing to accept these bonds in the hope that a future government will pay, even if the current one won’t. Perhaps the U.S. government believes Venezuela still has a stockpile of these parked bonds and is trying to eliminate this last source of oxygen for the Maduro government.

2.    What’s Coming is Brutal: Perhaps the U.S. government expects a brutal restructuring and wants to give U.S. holders an opportunity to escape by selling to non-U.S. parties. But query: If this is the story, why would anyone want to buy? (Ans: They wouldn’t, thereby reducing liquidity even further).

3.    Don’t Want Irate Bondholders Calling and Yelling at US Treasury Officials: This explanation is a version of the first one (Oxygen denial) and says that the U.S. wants to dramatically reduce the value of Venezuelan bonds in the short run, but not to zero, so that U.S. holders who really need to exit will still have a small escape window.

4.    Cut Venezuela Out of the Index: Nearly two years ago, Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann urged JP Morgan to remove Venezuelan bonds from its index (see here, for Hausmann’s now-famous “Hunger Bonds” article). Venezuela needed to solve a humanitarian crisis, not pay coupons to foreign bondholders. Hausmann understood that many investors would view Venezuelan bonds less favorably if the bonds were removed from JP Morgan’s index. Indirectly, the U.S. government might be trying to bring about this result. To stay in the index, a bond must be traded to some minimal degree. If the sanctions prevent this, Venezuelan bonds may be removed from index. But why would this matter to the U.S. government? Hausmann was worried about coupon payments being made to foreign creditors in lieu of assistance to the people of Venezuela. But Venezuela is not paying any coupons these days (except on the one collateralized PDVSA bond).

Explanations one and three seem most plausible to us. Perhaps the U.S. government is hoping for regime change in the near future. If so, the pain bondholders feel will be temporary and offset by gains once a reasonable government is in place. But if Maduro retains power, then the pain for U.S. holders of these instruments will be significant.

Euro Area Sovereign Bonds: CACs or no-CACs?

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mitu Gulati and Mark Weidemaier

Beginning January 1, 2013, Euro Area authorities required member countries to include “collective action clauses,” or “CACs,” in sovereign bonds with a maturity over one year. CACs are a voting mechanism by which a bondholder supermajority (e.g., 66.67% or 75%) can restructure bond terms in a vote that binds dissenters. Before 2013, the vast majority of sovereign bonds issued by Euro area countries not only lacked CACs; they essentially said nothing about restructuring. For much more on CACs, European and otherwise, see here, here and here.

Because of this policy change in 2013, almost every Euro Area sovereign has two sets of bonds outstanding: CAC bonds and no-CAC bonds. Is either type of bond safer for investors to hold in the event of a restructuring?

Continue reading "Euro Area Sovereign Bonds: CACs or no-CACs? " »

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