24 posts from April 2020

Immunity, Necessity and the Enforcement of Italian Debt in the Era of Covid-19

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier & Mitu Gulati

The sovereign debt world has been debating how to design an emergency debt standstill for the poorest nations, so that they can devote scarce resources to public health rather than debt service. As we’ve discussed on this blog, the question has come up as to whether countries might be able to use the customary international law doctrine of necessity to defend against creditor lawsuits.

Our discussion hasn’t focused on any particular jurisdiction, although we have implicitly assumed that much of the litigation would take place in New York. Now, let us switch gears to assume (plausibly, we think) that Italy is one of the countries that might need a debt standstill. It has been among the worst hit by COVID-19 and will likely soon have a debt/GDP ratio upwards of 150%. To quote a scary new report out from Schroders (here): “Italy is the prime candidate for being the first [Eurozone] casualty [from the Covid-19 crisis]. Its high indebtedness and lack of economic growth require policies that are either illegal in the eurozone, or politically unpalatable domestically.” 

Our work on the mechanics of an Italian debt restructuring—see here (Mark) and here (Theresa Arnold, Ugo Panizza, and Mitu)—has not discussed necessity or other defenses to enforcement. That’s because most of Italy’s debt is subject to Italian law, and our focus was on how Italy might change this law to enable a restructuring. But let us say that Italy does not take this approach. Perhaps it continues to pretend that a debt restructuring is simply inconceivable. It does not lay any legal groundwork for a restructuring. Instead, Italian politicians simply pray for some magical combination of high growth (unprecedented) and a no-strings-attached bailout package from European authorities. In that event, it is conceivable that a sudden spike in interest rates might prevent Italy from making payments. Assuming no immediate European bailout (Italy’s politicians have demonstrated a distaste for any of the conditionality that would come with ESM funding), that means some risk of having to defend the non-payment against creditor lawsuits.

Continue reading "Immunity, Necessity and the Enforcement of Italian Debt in the Era of Covid-19" »

The Resurgence of Calls For Financial Literacy

posted by Pamela Foohey

Today is the last day of National Financial Literacy Month. At a time when the economy has come to a grinding halt, it seems pertinent to talk about financial literacy, or, more accurately, the fallacy of financial education. Agata Soroko recently published a short essay in Public Seminar -- The Financial Literacy Delusion. In it, she details how calls for financial education already are ramping up in light of the coronavirus's highlighting how little savings most Americans have. I suspected that the refrain that it's people's fault that they didn't have sufficient savings to cover a few months, and thus that they exacerbated the economic downturn with their inability to control themselves enough to save, would emerge with a vengeance in the coming months.

Combating that narrative will become more important than ever, as a matter of economic policy, but also of kindness and understanding to each other. Indeed, it's important right now as Congress considers how to help American families during the crisis. As Slipster Dalie Jimenez, Chris Odinet, and I wrote in our just-uploaded-to-SSRN essay, The Folly of Credit As Pandemic Relief, forthcoming in UCLA Law Review Discourse, in the CARES Act, Congress predominately provided relief to Americans in the form of credit products, not actual cash. This very likely will prove to be problematic because people will be unable to repay in the coming months, just as they are unable to pay for their necessities now. They simply do not have the money, and will not in the future because people still won't have sufficient income to accumulate meaningful savings. As Soroko writes, financial education cannot solve widening income disparities, rising costs, and wealth inequality--the roots of why many Americans have so little savings.

Continue reading "The Resurgence of Calls For Financial Literacy" »

PPP Loan Fees for Banks

posted by Alan White

$10 billion of CARES Act funds are going to the banks, especially megabanks, in fees for making “small” business PPP loans. The fees established by Congress, to be paid by the Small Business Administration, i.e. Treasury, range from 1% for loans above $2 million to 5% for loans below $350,000.

The maximum loan amount is $10 million, so those loans generate a nifty $100,000 fee each. At least 40 large public companies received loans from $1 to $10 million.

Given the highly streamlined application process, these fees likely far exceed the costs of originating these loans. The 1% interest rate, while low, still exceeds bank cost of funds. Do the banks need a bailout? First quarter earnings reports for the largest banks show steep drops in earnings, but earnings are still positive. The earnings drop is entirely due to provisioning for expected loan losses; obviously predicting loan performance over the next year is a very tricky business. Nevertheless, the PPP fee structure is designed to subsidize financial institutions not especially in need of a bailout, especially compared to restaurants, main street stores, and other small businesses. In fact, given that SBA is waiving the guarantee fee, why don’t the banks just waive the fees and interest on these loans? And given the robust public subsidies to megabanks, why should SBA pay these fees in the first place? If banks have inadequate capital to weather the coming storm, surely there is a better way to support them than having SBA pay these arbitrary PPP loan fees.

The Role of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in Addressing the Consequences of COVID19.

posted by Jay Lawrence Westbrook

Many businesses may require bankruptcy proceedings to assist in recovery from the CV Recession. In my view, the best legal approach to any Chapter 11 reforms necessitated by the emerging CV-induced economic crisis lies in building up from the Small Business Reorganization Act (SBRA) to cover more Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), rather than trying to adjust the general provisions of Chapter 11, the home of bankruptcies like General Motors and American Airlines. Our database at the Business Bankruptcy Project shows that in 2018 more than half of the businesses that filed in Chapter 11 in the Southern District of New York would fall under the temporary SBRA cap, $7.5 million.

Most immediately, the recently voted funds for small business must be available in bankruptcy reorganization cases. We must remove any barrier to using them in that way. I start the study of Chapter 11 by reminding students that the clerk at the bankruptcy court does not hand out money. Bankruptcy does not produce funding, although it can help facilitate it in important ways. Thus there is no legal reform that will avoid the need for very substantial financing with implications far beyond reorganization procedures. Bankruptcy cannot help unless it can be used in connection with rescue funding.

Continue reading "The Role of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in Addressing the Consequences of COVID19." »

Further Thoughts on Necessity as a Reason to Defer Sovereign Debt Obligations

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mitu and I posted some preliminary thoughts about the defense of necessity, which might be raised as a basis for allowing sovereign borrowers to defer debt service during the crisis. I wanted to follow up on some of the open issues. A few are technical, addressing some potential objections to the defense. I’ll deal with these first and close with a more fundamental question: What good does this potential defense really do for a sovereign? In thinking through that question, my premise is that many sovereigns will need a temporary standstill on debt service during the crisis. For proposals to this effect, see here, here, and here. (Others will eventually need a debt restructuring, but that’s a topic for another day.) But of course private creditors must agree to a standstill on payments. Those who don’t might sue or file arbitration claims, which will potentially put the sovereign's assets at risk and will certainly consume time and resources to defend. [Last sentence edited for clarity.]

Some background

Necessity is a rule of customary international law. As expressed in Article 25 of the International Law Commission’s draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, a state can invoke necessity to excuse its non-performance of an “international obligation” if non-performance is the only way to address “a grave and imminent peril,” as long as non-performance does not seriously impair an essential interest of the “State or States towards which the obligation exists.” Even if these conditions are satisfied, the state cannot invoke necessity to excuse the violation of an international obligation that “excludes the possibility of invoking necessity.” (Put differently, the doctrine purports to treat necessity as a default rule.) Nor can a state invoke the defense if it has contributed to the state of necessity. Finally, even if the defense is available, non-performance is excused only while the threat persists. The state must resume performance when the crisis ends, and it may have to pay compensation for any loss caused by its non-compliance.

It may not be obvious, but this is a remarkably crabbed conception of “necessity.”

Continue reading "Further Thoughts on Necessity as a Reason to Defer Sovereign Debt Obligations" »

State Bankruptcy

posted by Stephen Lubben

So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says States should be able to file for bankruptcy, to get out of their pension obligations. He'd rather that than give them a federal bailout, given current conditions.

I have long argued that States don't need bankruptcy, because they have stronger sovereign immunity (under the Eleventh Amendment) than most actual sovereigns. But put that to one side.

Why does McConnell think that such a bankruptcy will be limited to single class of creditors? Indeed, I doubt such a bankruptcy system would be consistent with the Bankruptcy Clause.

And quite frankly, I suspect bondholders understand this (even if anti-union activists don't). That is why you never see the municipal bond managers advocating for "State bankruptcy." The bankruptcy of any of the 50 states would look more like Puerto Rico's, where haircuts to bondholders are most definitely on the table. The only question is "how much?"

Necessity in the Time of COVID-19

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati

COVID-19 has wrought an unprecedented economic crisis, which will most severely impact the poorest countries. Anna has written insightfully (here and here) about the G-20’s agreement to a temporary debt standstill for a subset of poor countries. And there have been numerous proposals (e.g., here and here) for a broader standstill to allow all countries the ability to devote necessary financial resources to the crisis. The basic idea behind these proposals is that countries should have the option to defer debt payments to both official and private creditors during the time of the crisis. A limitation of these proposals is that their efficacy depends on high levels of voluntary participation by private creditors. What is to stop less public-spirited creditors from insisting on full payment, even filing lawsuits or arbitration claims to enforce their debts? One answer to this question is that borrower governments could invoke the defense of necessity—long recognized as a rule of customary international law—as a defense to such lawsuits. We want to address that defense here briefly, recognizing that the topic deserves a lengthier treatment than we can give it here.

To clarify, here is how we understand the necessity defense: If successfully invoked, a sovereign could defer payment of any principal and interest that came due during the crisis, although it would have to make the payments once the crisis ended. It might also (although this is less clear) have to pay some compensation, likely in the form of interest on the delayed payments. But any compensation would reflect a below-market interest rate. In this sense, investors would suffer a real loss. They would be subsidizing the crisis response, although this does not make them unique. So is every other person with a claim on the sovereign’s resources, including the citizens and residents for whose welfare the state is responsible.

Continue reading "Necessity in the Time of COVID-19" »

Save the Date: 3rd Annual Consumer Law Scholars Conference

posted by Pamela Foohey

CLSC 2021 Banner (large)To give us something to look forward to, the Berkeley Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice recently announced that the third annual Consumer Law Scholars Conference (CLSC) will take place on March 4-5, 2021, at Boston University. The conference is organized by scholars well-known to Credit Slips: Kathleen Engel, Ted Mermin, Rory Van Loo, and Lauren Willis. I attended the inaugural conference at Berkeley Law a couple years ago. It brings together a great and diverse group of scholars working on a range of consumer-related issues. Some details from the announcement:

The conference will provide those who publish in the field of consumer law the opportunity to share their work with peers, give and receive feedback, and collaborate in setting a research agenda for the field as a whole. Speakers will include both leading scholars and prominent policymakers. Although the conference is focused on scholarship, practitioners are encouraged to attend.

The organizers will send out a call for paper in June. They welcome doctrinal, theoretical, and empirical approaches across a range of topics: common law contracts and products liability; UDA(A)P and disclosure laws; food, drug, and public health law; consumer lending, credit reporting, and fintech; loan servicing and debt collection; commercial speech and the First Amendment; federalism, preemption, and sovereign immunity as related to consumer transactions; regulation, supervision, and enforcement by public agencies; private enforcement; and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now That Everyone Is on the Standstill Bandwagon ... Where to? Part II

posted by Anna Gelpern

Delivering pandemic-fighting resources through debt relief channels poses at least three overlapping implementation challenges--no bandwidth today, Groundhog Day tomorrow, and inter-creditor equity forever--in addition to the challenge of monitoring the use of proceeds I flagged in Part I. I sketch these three below, alongside three possible solutions -- a model standstill agreement for all kinds of debt, retrofitting contingent standstill terms in all kinds of debt contracts, and a standing sovereign debt coordinating group.

Continue reading "Now That Everyone Is on the Standstill Bandwagon ... Where to? Part II" »

Now That Everyone Is on the Standstill Bandwagon ... Where to? Part I

posted by Anna Gelpern

A sovereign debt standstill might not cure COVID-19, but it sure seems like the one thing we can all agree on.

In the run-up to last week's all-virtual IMF-World Bank-G-20 meetings, a chorus of private and public sector, NGO, think tank and academic voices (me included) had called for some version of a pandemic-themed pause on sovereign debt payments. Hardly anyone opposed the idea in public, but relief proposals ran the gamut from ambitious to cosmetic, and it took intense negotiations to get the G-20 to agree on a relatively modest NPV-neutral eight-month respite for the world's poorest countries.  Perhaps most importantly, Saudi Arabia was in the chair and China signed on, signaling that the new(ish) creditor cohort might be taking ownership of the global sovereign debt regime alongside the old bilateral and multilateral creditors. If they follow through, it is a major achievement, and a long overdue first step. The fact that a big financial industry group worked closely with the G-20 and is on board with the outcome is also a good sign. All that's left is ... elaborating the substance and implementing the thing. In this post, I try to sort out what problems a standstill might solve, and how these fit with the G-20 statement. Part II offers three ideas on implementation.

Continue reading "Now That Everyone Is on the Standstill Bandwagon ... Where to? Part I" »

PSLF update

posted by Alan White

The success rate for Public Service Loan Forgiveness applicants has doubled. From 1% to 2%.

Thinking they have completed their 10 years of payments, 140,000 student loan borrowers had applied for cancellation through February 29, and about 3,000 had received a discharge, including 1,300 under the “temporary expanded” PSLF who were put in the wrong repayment plan by their servicers.

1.3 million public servants have had their employment approved for eventual cancellation of their student loans after 10 years of repayment. Two-thirds are in public sector jobs and one-third work in the nonprofit sector. Their average debt is $89,000, although a median would be a more useful number (graduate school borrowers extend the long right-hand tail.)

The pace of approvals is undoubtedly affected by quarantines of servicer employees. Pennsylvania and the federal Education Department should consider making student loan cancellation workers at FedLoan/PHEAA essential, and staffing up this program.

USED now releases monthly rather than quarterly #PSLF data.

A Coming Consumer Bankruptcy Tsunami, Wave, or Ripple?

posted by Bob Lawless

With the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of talk about a coming surge of consumer bankruptcy filings. In the very short-term, however, bankruptcy filing numbers are down. According to data from Epiq Systems, daily bankruptcy filings declined 18.4% in March 2020 on a year-over-year basis. March 2020 filings were 62,847 as compared to 73,521 in March 2019 but were spread out over one more business day (and hence had an even lower daily filing rate).

The downward trend appears to have continued in April. I say "appear to" because the numbers are down so much that I wonder whether my computations are accurate. Immediate national bankruptcy filing numbers are hard to assemble. Using docket searches on Bloomberg Law that produced all of the bankruptcy cases filed on particular dates, I got the following national bankruptcy filing counts in 2020 as compared to 2019

  2019 2020 decline
last seven days of March 21,656 15,096 -30.3%
first seven days of April 14,886 7,432 -50.1%
second seven days of April 15,602 7,225 -53.7%

If anyone has better data or can confirm these numbers, please leave a comment. Even if these numbers are not spot on, I am confident enough to say there have been big drops in consumer bankruptcy filings the first two weeks in April.

Continue reading "A Coming Consumer Bankruptcy Tsunami, Wave, or Ripple?" »

What Can One Do With 50% plus One?

posted by Mitu Gulati

Today is the final day of my Duke-NYU sovereign debt seminar with Steve Choi and Lee Buchheit, and that makes me sad.  The students have delivered in spades this term, notwithstanding the disruptions to their lives as a result of corona drama. I can't begin to express how proud I am.  And teaching with Steve and Lee (with cameos by Ugo Panizza, Mark Weidemaier, Theresa Arnold, Anna Gelpern, Jeromin Zettelmeyer, Chanda De Long, Yannis Manuelides, Anna Szymanski, Felix Salmon, Jon Zonis, Robin Wigglesworth, and Colby Smith) has been special. I’m grateful for how much I've learned from them and the students.

In preparation for today’s final presentations, I want to note a couple of ideas from the student papers that arrived last night. These ideas struck me as both intriguing and audacious.  I haven’t thought them through adequately, but they got me thinking.  So, here goes. Some preliminary thoughts.

Continue reading "What Can One Do With 50% plus One?" »

Lebanon’s Vexing Modification Clause

posted by Mark Weidemaier

Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati

We posted earlier about Lebanon’s befuddling fiscal agency agreement. Understanding what exactly the modification provision in this contract means to say is key because Lebanon is in the process of trying to restructure its obligations to bondholders. 

To recap, the chief oddity is that the agreement seems to have only one voting threshold for modifying the bonds (75%).  That makes it relatively easy for dissident investors to block a restructuring. A typical sovereign bond has two voting thresholds, a higher one for payment-related and other “core” terms and a lower one for non-core terms (usually 50%, but sometimes 66.67%). If Lebanon’s bonds lack a lower voting threshold for non-core terms, this would negate the government’s most feasible restructuring strategy, which would involve the use of exit consents to discourage holdouts.  Now, in theory, it is possible that Lebanon and its creditors consciously negotiated a special type of sovereign debt contract totally precluding the use of exit consents. But if that were the case, we’d think that everyone involved (creditors, debtors, rating agencies and so on) would have been aware and this matter would have been prominently flagged on the front pages of the offering document.  Best we can tell, none of that happened.

So, assuming there is no evidence that this was a specially designed anti-exit consent vehicle, the next question to ask is what arguments can be made for enabling the use of the technique. We see two arguments—closely related but distinct—for allowing the government to modify non-core terms at a voting threshold lower than 75%. Apologies; this will be a bit technical.

Continue reading "Lebanon’s Vexing Modification Clause" »

Model Standstill/Tolling Agreement

posted by Bob Lawless

The Business Law Section of the American Bar Association has posted a model standstill/tolling agreement drafted by Jonathan Lipson and Norm Powell. Business relationships will undoubtedly strain as the crisis means more parties are not able to fulfill their side of a deal. Often, an aggrieved party will have to enforce their rights lest they lose these rights by not taking action. A "standstill/tolling agreement" removes that pressure and preserves the status quo. In Lipson and Powell's words, the goal is to allow parties "to produce an acceptable, temporary workout that obviates the need for litigation and, ideally, preserves a productive economic relationship."

They have made the model agreement publicly available, recognizing that not every business will be able to retain counsel. The agreement is available with annotations to explain its provisions as well as a clean version that parties can use by filling in the blanks. As Lipson and Powell also stress, the model agreement is not intended as a substitute for legal advice and parties should consider retaining legal counsel when possible.

Coronavirus Will Hasten the Shift To App-Based Banking and Lending. How Will That Affect People's Pocketbooks?

posted by Pamela Foohey

Over at the Machine Lawyering blog -- organized and edited by the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Law Faculty’s Centre for Financial Regulation and Economic Development -- Slipster Nathalie Martin and I just posted some commentary about our new article, Reducing The Wealth Gap Through Fintech "Advances" in Consumer Banking and Lending, forthcoming in the University of Illinois Law Review. The article, in part, assessing new "advances" in fintech products that promise to provide people with lower-cost banking and lending options. We focus on prepaid cards for wages, early wage access programs, and auto lending apps. We conclude that these products more likely than not will prove to be disadvantageous to consumers. The article's connection to the wealth gap is the recognition that high-cost banking and lending products impede people's ability to convert income into savings. We put forth a few ideas about the hallmarks of banking and lending products that actually may help close the wealth gap by targeting Americans’ unequal access to banking and lending services. 

Nathalie and I, of course, wrote this article before the coronavirus pandemic. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing in effect, it is highly likely that people's already increasing use of online and app-based banking and lending products will increase even faster. If our analysis proves correct, the spoils of the increased shift will accrue more to providers than to consumers, and people may be able to save even less of their income. The pandemic has highlighted American's lack of savings. Hopefully helping Americans save will become more of a focus in the future.

Also, on the note of early wage access programs, when we drafted the article, we found effectively no published analysis of early wage access programs. As we were writing, Nakita Cuttino and Jim Hawkins kindly shared their draft articles with us. Both articles are now available SSRN and present interesting (and different) analyzes of early wage access programs. Nakita's article is titled, The Rise of "FringeTech": Regulatory Risk in Early Wage Access. And Jim's article is titled, Earned Wage Access and the End of Payday Lending.

11th Circuit: Student Borrower Consumer Claims not Preempted by HEA

posted by Alan White

An 11th Circuit panel ruled last week that student loan borrowers may assert state law misrepresentation claims against a student loan servicer that falsely told them their FFEL loans qualified for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. The servicer, joined by USED, argued that the Higher Education Act preempted the borrowers' state law claims, because the HEA mandates certain disclosures and expressly preempts state laws that would require additional or different disclosures. Attorneys general and consumer lawyers around the country have been battling various versions of these preemption and related sovereign immunity arguments. 

Kate Elengold and Jonathan Glater have posted an excellent article, the Sovereign Shield, summarizing the state of play.

What to do When Your Contract is a Dog's Breakfast

posted by Mitu Gulati

Tomorrow is the first of the two days when the students in my international debt class (with Steve Choi and Lee Buchheit) present their final papers to a group of outside experts.  The students have come up with some intriguing ideas for the restructurings of Lebanese and Argentine debt, a couple of which I flag below.

  1. What to do When Your Contract is a Dog's Breakfast?

Mark and I have complained about the Lebanese sovereign bond contracts on this site before (here).  I confess that there are portions of it -- the CACs and the pari passu clauses in particular -- that utterly befuddle me.  Now, maybe this is because I'm easily confused and a more sophisticated reader would understand the contract. But let us assume for the sake of argument that this contract really is the proverbial dog's breakfast. That then raises the question of: What is a court to do when faced with a contract full of confusion? (drafting guru Ken Adams uses the following delightful expression for some especially horrid contracts that he has seen -- dumpster fire).  My sense is that New York courts generally pretend that even contracts that they suspect are the product of bad cut and paste jobs were intentionally and rationally drafted.  The theory being that this gives parties -- especially those represented by fancy lawyers -- an incentive to do a better job the next time. 

At least two student groups though (Adriana and Luke from NYU, here, and Alex, Chris & Brenda from Duke, here), suggest that there is reason to think this situation could play out otherwise.  They've identified a provision in the Lebanese bonds (23(1) c of the Fiscal Agency Agreement) that gives the authority to cure any ambiguity or appropriately supplement any provision to the issuer.  Yes, sole authority goes to the issuer with the only constraint being that the issuer cannot make changes that harm the holders of the bonds (basically, that the issuer cannot act opportunistically).  This is potentially huge for Lebanon, since I am willing to wager that it would not be that difficult to get expert testimony from a dozen or so of the most eminent sovereign debt lawyers that the contract here has some major issues.  Further, since these are standard form contracts where it is easy to figure out what the market standard for the provisions in question say, the issuer can safely fill the gaps without being at substantial risk of being found to have acted opportunistically in violation of 23(1) (the student papers do a nice job of digging into the literature and identifying the relevant market standards -- which would, as I understand the arguments in the papers, help Lebanon considerably). Game, set and match to Lebanon?

Question is: Will the Lebanese lawyers use this contractual advantage?  The above language from 23(1) was also present in the Argentine sovereign debt contracts that contained the infamous pari passu clauses that got Argentina into horrible trouble with Judge Greisa and then the Second Circuit almost a decade ago. Those provisions were widely agreed to be relics of the past that no one understood and had little contemporary value.  Yet, even though there was hushed discussion of using the Argentine equivalent of 23(1) in some circles, the Argentine lawyers never used 23(1) to help clarify the meaning of their pari passu clause.  And that makes me wonder whether there was some reason that I'm not seeing as to why the argument was not used (maybe lawyers don't like saying that contracts drafted by their predecessors were dumpster fires?).  I'll find out more tomorrow, I hope.

    2. The Necessity Doctrine in the Time of Corona

A second intriguing possibility that a number of student papers have raised, but that one student paper focuses exclusively on, is the Necessity defense from customary international law.  Simplifying, the doctrine says that nations can get temporary relief from their contractual obligations in the narrow circumstances where some exogenous event occurs that causes them to need to divert resources towards helping their populace.  Charlie, Andres and Michael (here) argue that the current pandemic is precisely the kind of rare situation the Necessity doctrine was designed for.  They are not by any means saying that Argentina is entitled to a reduction in its debt obligations under the Necessity doctrine. Instead, if I understand their paper, their argument is that current levels of uncertainty so high and the need to put resources into health care so palpable that courts should be willing to grant Argentina temporary relief from suit.  And the fact that the G20 countries have just indicated that they are indeed contemplating temporary standstills for the debt obligations of the most distressed nations around the globe (here) is some support for the argument that Charlie, Michael and Andres make on behalf of Argentina.  

As as aside, Mark and I discussed the use of the Necessity defense many moons ago in the context of the Casa Express v. Venezuela case, where we thought it was something of a long shot (here).  The reason being that there was a pretty strong argument that Venezuela's financial crisis was one of its own making.  And one could argue that Argentina's debt crisis is of its own making. But Charlie, Andres and Michael respond to this argument by reiterating that they are not asking for debt relief on account of the Coronavirus -- just a temporary standstill so that the country can help save the lives of its own people.  Question is: Can they persuade a New York court that these circumstances are so unique that the recognition of the defense will not destroy the market?  

Corona Cash and Refund Anticipation Checks

posted by Adam Levitin

Vijay Raghavan, who will be joining the Brooklyn Law School faculty this summer shared a troubling observation about the payment of the recovery rebates ("Corona Cash" or "Mnuchin Mnoney") through direct deposit to taxpayers. It seems that the payments for around 15% of individual tax filings might be going to bank accounts that are closed or not controlled by the taxpayers. That 15% is surely a much larger percentage of households eligible for Corona Cash. I wouldn't be surprised if close to a quarter of eligible households are affected.

Raghavan writes:

Recovery rebates (stimulus payments) under the CARES Act are supposed
to go out this week. A number of people have noted that the payments
will be delayed for unbanked consumers and the funds are at risk of
being swept by lenders or debt collectors. What has received less
attention is the fact that many banked or underbanked taxpayers may
not receive their rebates because they financed tax preparation with a
refund anticipation check (“RAC”). [AJL: a RAC is distinct from a refund anticipation loan, when the preparer advances the taxpayer part of the anticipated tax refund.]

RACs allow taxpayers to defer the cost of tax preparation and finance
preparation out of their refund. The refund is deposited in a
temporary bank account that the tax preparer arranges to have opened.
The taxpayer may never be made aware that the temporary account
exists. The refund is then distributed to the taxpayer minus
preparation fees and ancillary fees via check, direct deposit, or
using some other payment instrument.

The conventional wisdom is RACs are primarily used by unbanked
consumers. But many banked or underbanked taxpayers may also use RACs.
Smaller tax prep chains and individual tax prep stores rely on RAC
financing for at least two reasons. First, the intermediaries these
tax preparers use to process the returns charge numerous
per-transaction fees, which are easier to pay for out of a taxpayer’s
refund since the cash-strapped taxpayer can’t afford to pay for the
intermediaries’ services up-front. Second, financing may serve to
conceal inordinately high tax preparation fees. As a result, it is not
uncommon to find tax preparation stores in low-income neighborhoods
that refuse to accept up-front payment and only process RAC-financed
returns. In the 2018 tax year, approximately 21 million returns were
financed with RACs. [AJL: for context, there were around 150 million individual returns filed in 2018.]

RACs present a few problems for stimulus distribution. If returns were
already filed and processed, the temporary banks accounts may be
closed, which will delay distribution of the rebate. If the temporary
account is still open, the rebate may sit in the account without being
distributed. There should be less problems if returns have not been
filed or are still pending. But if refunds are initially distributed
to the tax preparer as opposed to the taxpayer (which happens in some
cases), there is some risk tax preparer may take the CARES Act money.

The good news is large chains like H&R Block and tax software
companies should have bank account information for the returns they
processed. They could turn this data over to the Treasury but the
CARES Act may limit the Treasury's ability to disburse payments. The
CARES Act seems to only allow electronic disbursement to accounts the
taxpayer has previously authorized. Taxpayers who regularly financed
tax prep with RACs likely have not authorized disbursement to their
own bank account or may not maintain an open bank account in regular
use. Treasury probably has to lean on preparers and software companies
to ensure that payments to RAC-financed returns are disbursed to the
taxpayer bank accounts.

The problems in doing a quick disbursal of Corona Cash highlight some deficiencies in the US payment and banking system. The House counterproposal to the CARES Act had in it a provision for the creation of FedAccounts--giving every consumer a bank account held at the Fed. It's kind of late in the game to try and set up such a system to deal with the corona virus crisis, but the crisis is exposing areas that need to be shored up going forward. 

The Myth of Optimal Expectation Damages

posted by Mitu Gulati

Roughly eighty years ago, Lon Fuller and William Perdue (the former, then a faculty member at Duke Law, and the latter, a 3L), wrote two of the most famous articles in contract law (here). One of the puzzles they posed -- about why the law favors the expectation damages measure -- resulted in an entire body of scholarship, including the theory of efficient breach. And although there are a number of superb articles that have been written on this matter (Craswell, Scott, Goetz, Triantis, Posner, Klass and more), I confess that I have always had a strong distaste for this body of optimal damages scholarship because it was too complicated for me. I have, however, been most grateful to Fuller and Perdue because, in the wake of their famous collaboration, they set up a scholarship at Duke to fund faculty-student research collaborations that I have frequently applied for funding to. Last summer, I finally had to pay the price though, because three of my Duke students (one former and two current) asked if we could work on a legal realist examination of the Fuller-Perdue optimal damages question itself. I was resistant, but Jamie Boyle (who has written a fabulous piece linking Fuller's work in both public and private law (here)), urged that the students were right about this being a fun project. 

Jamie and the students were right about this being a fun project, in spades (we owe a special debt to Mark Weidemaier, who is a saint in terms of his generosity with comments and advice). All credit to Theresa, Amanda and Madison (errors are mine).

With thanks to Lon Fuller and William Perdue, the paper is here, and the abstract is below:

One of the most debated questions in the literature on contract law is what the optimal measure of damages for breach should be.  The standard casebook answer, drawing from the theory of efficient breach, is expectations damages.  This standard answer, once considered a major contribution of the law and economics field, has increasingly come under attack by theoreticians within that field itself. To shed an empirical perspective on the question, we look at data in one setting (prepayment clauses in international debt contracts) on what types of damages provisions parties contract for themselves. We find little evidence of a preference for the expectations damages measure.

CARES Act "Rebates" and Bankruptcy

posted by Dalié Jiménez

Related to Pamela's last post and our article regarding garnishments and the CARES Act "rebates," the US Trustee issued a notice to Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 trustees giving them guidance on what to do about them in a bankruptcy case.

The top line: these payments should not be included in the statutory definitions of "current monthly income" or "disposable income" per the CARES Act itself. But the Act failed to discuss whether these payments are property of the estate, which typically would mean that they are. I know bankruptcy lawyers have been dealing with this already and many feared that some trustees would try to obtain these mounts. I was therefore very pleased to read this in the US Trustee notice, in particular the part in bold:

Regardless of whether the rebate is property of the estate, the United States Trustee expects that it is highly unlikely that the trustee would administer the payment after consideration of all relevant circumstances ... Trustees are directed to notify the United States Trustee prior to taking any action to recover recovery rebates or objecting to a chapter 13 plan based on the treatment of recovery rebates.

Treasury Must Act Now To Protect Relief Payments From Debt Collectors

posted by Pamela Foohey

The CARES Act provides for direct "rebate" payments to American households. Treasury is gearing up to send some of those payments out soon. But Congress forgot to protect the payments from garnishment. American families may see needed funds deposited into their bank accounts only to watch that money disappear. Slipster Dalié Jiménez, Chris Odinet, and I just published a short piece on the Harvard Law Review blog detailing this problem and proposing a simple solution that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin should implement ASAP. 

Lebanon’s Unusual Pari Passu Clause and the Question of How to Construct Credible Priority

posted by Mitu Gulati

A few weeks ago, Mark Weidemaier and I blogged about Lebanon’s unusual pari passu clause and Collective Action Clauses. The question we were interested in – and the one our students are focused on – was how to engineer a restructuring that would be protected against the risk of holdout creditors (here).  One of the few methods available, assuming that creditors were likely to have blocking positions in a number of the Lebanese foreign law bonds, was to utilize Lebanon’s unusual pari passu clause to do an Exit Exchange.  Yesterday, one of the students in my debt restructuring class, who is working on designing a plan for Lebanon, posed the following inconvenient questions: Isn’t this clause internally inconsistent, with the second half of the clause contradicting the first half?  And if so, won’t a court disregard the second half as a scrivener’s error?

Continue reading "Lebanon’s Unusual Pari Passu Clause and the Question of How to Construct Credible Priority" »

CARES Act Mortgage Foreclosure and Tenant Eviction Relief

posted by Alan White

The final text of the act is now available here. The foreclosure relief is in Section 4022 and the eviction moratorium is in Section 4024. Mortgage borrowers with federally related loans (FHA, VA, Farmer's Home, Fannie or Freddie) may request 6 months of forbearance, i.e. no payments required, renewable for another 6 months, during which no late fees or penalties may be imposed, but interest continues to run (unlike student loans.) Homeowners need not provide documentation; a certification that they are affected by the COVID-19 crisis is enough. There is no statutory provision for loan modification after the forbearance period ends, so unpaid payments will still be due, but the agencies will likely be requiring or encouraging servicers to offer workouts when the forbearance ends. Section 4023 provides relief for landlords of multifamily buildings with federally related mortgages, conditioned on no evictions. 

The eviction relief is limited to tenants in properties on which there is a federally related mortgage loan, and is only for 4 months. In brief, landlords may not send notices to quit or go forward with evictions. Tenant certifications of hardship are not required. An excellent summary of the eviction moratorium is available at the National Housing Law Project site here. Some states are also imposing eviction moratoria covering more tenants.

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  • As a public service, the University of Illinois College of Law operates Bankr-L, an e-mail list on which bankruptcy professionals can exchange information. Bankr-L is administered by one of the Credit Slips bloggers, Professor Robert M. Lawless of the University of Illinois. Although Bankr-L is a free service, membership is limited only to persons with a professional connection to the bankruptcy field (e.g., lawyer, accountant, academic, judge). To request a subscription on Bankr-L, click here to visit the page for the list and then click on the link for "Subscribe." After completing the information there, please also send an e-mail to Professor Lawless (rlawless@illinois.edu) with a short description of your professional connection to bankruptcy. A link to a URL with a professional bio or other identifying information would be great.

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