8 posts from June 2021

Collins v. Yellen: the Most Important (and Overlooked) Implication

posted by Adam Levitin

The Supreme Court's decision in Collins v. Yellen has garnered a fair amount of attention because it resulted in a change in the leadership at the Federal Housing Finance Agency and largely dashed the hopes of Fannie and Freddie preferred shareholders in terms of seeing a recovery of diverted dividends. But the commentary has missed the really critical implication of the decision:  the Biden administration can undertake a wholesale reform of Fannie and Freddie by itself without Congress.

Continue reading "Collins v. Yellen: the Most Important (and Overlooked) Implication" »

What's Up With Oral Opinions in Bankruptcy?

posted by Adam Levitin

I've been reading a lot of bankruptcy court transcripts this past year, and I've noticed how frequently judges issue rulings orally from the bench. Sometimes these rulings are clearly drafted out, complete with pincites, etc. Yet these decision are never published. The only way to find them is to dig through the transcripts, which are usually not available on the free public dockets, but only in PACER. 

I've got a trio of concerns about this practice as well as some general questions about why this practice exists that I'm hoping our readership (particularly judges) can answer. 

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Venue Reform: Once More Unto the Breach

posted by Adam Levitin

Chapter 11 venue reform is back and not a moment too soon. The perennial problem of forum shopping has devolved into naked judge picking with what appears to be competition among a handful of judges to land large chapter 11 case. The results are incredible: last year 57% of the large public company bankruptcies ended up before just three judges, and 39% ended up before a single judge. When judges compete for cases, the entire system is degraded. Judges who want to attract or retain the flow of big cases cannot rule against debtors (or their private equity sponsors) on any key issues. If they do, they are branded as "unpredictable" and the business flows elsewhere. The result is that we are seeing a weaponization of bankruptcy and procedural rights, particularly for nonconsensual or legacy creditors being trampled.  

Recognizing this problem, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Ken Buck (R-CO) introduced the bipartisan Bankruptcy Venue Reform Act of 2021, H.R. 41931. The bill would require debtors to file where their principal place of business or principal assets are located—in other words in a location with a real world connection with the debtor's business. 

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Antique Chinese Debt - The Latest

posted by Mitu Gulati

Mark Weidemaier and I have talked about antique Chinese (mostly Imperial) debt often on this site.  And we've also discussed these debts on our podcast with sovereign debt gurus Tracy Alloway and Lee Buchheit (here).  Yes, we are a bit obsessed. Part of our fascination with this topic is that the Chinese government asserted a defense of odiousness to paying these debts.  The lenders (backed by western powers, seeking influence in China) and the Imperial borrowers (seeking to sell access to their country in exchange for self preservation) had, in essence, sold out the people of China.  End result: Revolution and refusal of successor communist governments to pay these debts, no matter what - even today, when China is a financial behemoth.  

Below is the abstract for a wonderful new paper, "Confirming the Obvious: Why Antique Chinese Bonds Should Remain Antique" in the U Penn Asian L. Rev. by two of our former Duke students, Alex Xiao and Brenda Luo.  Bravo! We are so proud.

As the Sino-U.S. relationship goes on a downward spiral, points of conflict have sparked at places one might not expect: antique sovereign bonds. In recent years, the idea of making China pay for the sovereign bonds issued by its predecessor regimes a century ago have received increasing attention in the U.S. This note takes this seeming strange idea seriously and maps out the possible legal issues surrounding a revival of these century-old bonds. Although two particular bonds show some potential for revival—the Hukuang Railways 5% Sinking Fund Gold Bonds of 1911 and the Pacific Development Loan of 1937—the private bondholders would unlikely be able to toll the statute of limitations on the repayment claims based on these bonds. Even in the unlikely scenario that they succeed, the Chinese government would have an arsenal of contract law arguments against the enforcement of these bonds, most notably defenses based on duress, impracticality, and public policy. By going into the details of the legal arguments and history behind these bonds, we seek to confirm the obvious, that is, the idea of making China pay for these bonds is as far-fetched as it sounds and would not be taken seriously by courts.

Collins v. Yellen

posted by Adam Levitin
The Supreme Court ruled today in Collins v. Yellen, a case brought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred shareholders that challenged both the constitutionality of the FHFA Director's appointment and the 2012 amendment to Treasury's stock purchase agreement with Fannie and Freddie that provided for all of Fannie and Freddie's profits to be swept into Treasury. The preferred shareholders are miffed because they believe that those dividends should be paid to them first, never minding the fact that but for the Treasury stock purchase, Fannie and Freddie would have been liquidated in receivership, resulting in the preferreds being wiped out. 
 
SCOTUS, following its ruling in Seila Law v. CFPB, held that the FHFA Director must be removable at will by the President. In light of this finding of unconstitutionality in the appointment of the FHFA Director, the Court remanded for consideration of damages from past profit sweeps. Future profit sweeps are permitted, however, as the Director is now clearly removable at will by the President.
 
While some media is pitching the outcome as a mixed ruling, it really isn't for the preferred shareholders. The preferreds took it on the nose here, and the market gets it: Fannie Mae preferred shares tumbled in value by 62% after the decision.
 

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Fake Lender Rule Repeal

posted by Adam Levitin

The House is schedule to take up a vote on repealing the OCC's "Fake Lender Rule," that would deem a loan to be made by a bank for usury purposes as long as the bank is a lender of record on the loan. Under the rule, issued in the waning days of the Trump administration, the bank is deemed to be the lender if its name is on the loan documentation, irrespective any other facts. Thus, under the rule, it does not matter if the bank was precommitted to selling the loan to a nonbank, which undertook the design, marketing, and underwriting of the loan. The bank's involvement can be a complete sham, and yet under the OCC's rule, it loan would be exempt from state usury laws because of the bank's notional involvement. The Fake Lender Rule green lights rent-a-bank schemes, which have proliferated as the transactional structure of choice for predatory consumer and small business lenders. 

Fortunately, the Fake Lender Rule can still be overturned under the Congressional Review Act, which allows certain recently made rules to be overturned through a filibuster-free joint resolution of Congress. Such a joint resolution passed the Senate 52-47 last month. Now the House is poised for its own vote. While the Senate vote was largely on partisan lines, some Republicans did join with Democrats to vote for the repeal. The dynamics in the House are somewhat different, as certain Democratic members have been opposed to the bill, but the fact that a vote is scheduled suggests that there should be the votes for repeal. 

The repeal of the Fake Lender has been endorsed by a group of 168 scholars from across the country, including yours truly and many Slipsters. You can read our letter urging the repeal here

Book Rec: Range (or Yet Another Paean to Learning from Failure)

posted by Jason Kilborn

With summer upon us, I thought others might be searching for good new reading, as I was when I took up a smart friend's longtime recommendation to read Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. So much good stuff in here. Perhaps contrary to the topic of the book, my brain is constantly in "insolvency policy" mode, so I was particularly interested in the many passages about famous people's meandering struggles to find their passion that catapulted them to success.

Among my favorites was a description of Nike co-founder Phil Knight's entrepreneurship philosophy: [155] "his main goal for his nascent shoe company was to fail fast enough that he could apply what he was learning to his next venture. He made one short-term pivot after another, applying the lessons as he went." This is exactly the advice offered to country after country hoping to develop more effective SME-friendly bankruptcy regimes ... as they unfortunately continue to stick to Old English draconian policies of imposing various restrictions and disabilities on post-bankruptcy entrepreneurs. Range offers yet another extended analysis of why this mindset is so persistent and so counterproductive. We need to let people fail, learn from whatever caused that failure (either mistakes or general economic volatility ... or COVID) and get back on their feet quickly to move on to other ventures.

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Bankruptcy Filing Rates Not Rising, May Go Lower

posted by Bob Lawless

UntitledThe latest data from Epiq Systems shows that year-over-year bankruptcy filings dropped again in May after an increase in April. The April and May figures are particularly important because they give us two months of year-over-year comparisons with post-Covid data.

In April, there was an average of 1,860 filings per day which was an increase of 6.4% from the previous April. That uptick made me wonder whether we were beginning to see the long-predicted increase in bankruptcy filings because of the pandemic. That speculation proved premature because the May figure was 1,738 filings per day, which was not only a decrease from April but a year-over-year decline of 13.1%.

Whether the April increase or the May decrease ends up being the one-month blip is something we will learn over the next few months. It is that kind of insight you are looking for when you come to this blog--the future will reveal the future. It is much easier, however, to come up with a story that April was the anomaly than vice versa.

Bankruptcy filings are seasonal, spiking in the early spring. Ronald Mann and Katie Porter persuasively documented the reason for that is tax refunds going to pay the cost of the bankruptcy filing. Usually the effect runs from February to April with a peak in March. This year, the IRS tax filing statistics show that refunds ended up being higher overall than last year but started more slowly. There was also a third round of stimulus payments in March that capped out at lower-income levels and at levels that are more typical for bankruptcy filers. For these reasons, what we saw in April might have just been the usual annual seasonality in the filing rate, just pushed back a bit by later-filing tax filers and the stimulus money.

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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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