postings by Mitu Gulati

A Tournament of Lawyers: Who Should Sri Lanka Hire to Manage its Debt Restructuring?

posted by Mitu Gulati

Rumor is that close to thirty leading international law firms have put in bids to assist Sri Lanka in its upcoming debt restructuring.  Makes sense -- there is a fat paycheck for whoever gets the mandate.  Given the stakes, my guess is that these firms -- and I'm just guessing -- are busy trying to "influence" whomsoever they can in both the current government and in the opposition (after all, the current government might fall any day now) to get ahead in the competition.  Yuck.

Having a good adviser can make a huge difference in terms of how well one's debt restructuring goes.  Hopefully, the decision will made as a function of which adviser will give Sri Lanka the best restructuring design and not made as a function of who is best buddies with the President's closest flunky.  I'm not optimistic though.

I have a suggestion.  I know it has zero chance, but I'm going to make it anyway.  We should have a competition, a tournament of lawyers. Each of these firms should have to put up on  ssrn.com a ten page plan as to how it plans to solve the likely holdout problem with Sri Lanka's restructuring.  Then, Sri Lanka could have a neutral panel of respected restructuring experts pick the firm with the best plan. Or the experts could pick four semi finalists and those semi finalists could be given the opportunity to present their plans and answer questions in an open setting. 

Wouldn't it be a lot better for these firms to be spending their resources competing to design the best possible plan for Sri Lanka than competing to please the president's best friend or the cousin of the leader of the opposition?

These foreign advisers are expensive. And perhaps rightly so, given what they provide.  But they should have to earn every penny they charge a country in deep distress.  Maybe some of them with a really good plan might even offer to work pro bono?  After all, fame and fortune can come alongside a beautifully conducted restructuring.

Let the games begin.

 

Can Russia Pay its 2022 Dollar Bond Obligation in Rubles? (More dodgy Russian bond clauses?)

posted by Mitu Gulati

I didn't think so. But one of my students has me questioning myself.

As of this writing, in April 2022, the press is reporting that Russia is on the brink of default because its foreign currency funds are frozen (here). Russia says that it is not in default because it is unable to make the dollar or euro payments as a result of the sanctions and is entitled to make its payments in rubles.  Investors have dismissed this idea – saying that it is “crystal clear” that payments on the bonds with payments due April 2022 have to be paid in foreign currency (here).

Yes, there are some bonds, containing an “Alternate Payments Currency” clause issued in the post-2014 period, where Russia is arguably entitled to make payments in rubles if, for reasons out of its control, it is unable to pay in the primary currency specified in the bond (here).  But the bonds that have come due in April 2022 do not contain that Alternate Payment Currency clause. And hence the assumption seems to be that the ruble payment constitutes a default.  And I confess that that was my assumption until a student, Doug Mulliken, pointed out a clause that I had previously missed.

It is clause number 15, titled “Currency Indemnity.”  The first sentence of the clause says:

The U.S. dollar is the sole currency of account and payment for all sums payable by the Russian Federation . . . in connection with the Bonds, including damages.

That’s well and good.  The US dollar is the currency of payment.  But then the clause goes on to say:

Any amount received . . . in a currency other than the U.S. dollar . . . by any Bondholder in respect of any sum . . . due to it from the Russian Federation shall only constitute a discharge to the Russian Federation to the extent of the U.S. dollar amount which the recipient is able to purchase with the amount so received or recovered in that other currency on the date of that receipt or recovery . . . If that U.S. dollar amount is less than the U.S. dollar amount expressed to be due to the recipient under any Bond, the Russian Federation shall indemnify such recipient against any loss sustained by it as a result. In any event, the Russian Federation shall indemnify the recipient against the cost of making any such purchase.

To my reading, Doug is right. Boiled down, the clause seems to say that payment in a different currency (e.g., rubles) can constitute a “discharge”, so long as the recipient can use those rubles to buy a sufficient number of dollars.  That seems to mean that Russia, can discharge its obligations by paying in rubles.

Now, maybe I have missed some other clause in the document that negates this.  It would not be the first time that that’s happened.  But I do remember reading a chapter in Lee Buchheit’s, How to Negotiate Eurocurrency Loan Agreements, (Chapter 20, if memory serves) that not only describes clauses like this, but also explains how they are a potential source of mischief if the clause was not written tightly enough to protect against the debtor using capital controls in a sneaky fashion.

The sneaky thing for Mr. Putin to do would be to make the payments in rubles into an account in Russia, immediately convert the rubles to dollars and then say that the dollars are frozen in place under capital controls.  Pay enough rubles and, according to the strict terms of the contract, that would be a discharge.  And Mr. Putin could say that those dollars would be frozen until his foreign assets in the west were unfrozen.

One might ask here: Doesn't the bond require payments to be made in NY?  Yes, but Section 15, the Currency Indemnity clause, describes what happens if the holder “recovers OR RECEIVES” a payment in another currency, presumably in another place.

And it says that the USD payment is “discharged” if the holder receives a sufficient amount of that other currency to buy $$$ in the amount originally due on the date the other currency is received or recovered.

All of that will have happened.

Would a court buy any of this? Probably depends on where the court is located.  London, NY or Moscow.

The problem probably could have been obviated had the Currency Indemnity clause specified that the dollars acquired with the other currency (rubles, in our hypothetical) be "freely transferrable dollars". But it doesn't say that.

Aiyiyiyi

Credit to Doug Mulliken. Errors are mine.

Spoils Don't go to the Aggressor

posted by Mitu Gulati

Mark Weidemaier & Mitu Gulati

Ukraine has suffered an unprovoked invasion by a militarily more powerful neighbor, Russia, that covets its territory. The weaker Ukraine, in danger of being overrun, desperately seeks external financing for defense and to support its population. What might we think the rules of international law would be regarding the responsibility to pay that debt?

The relevant law here is antiquated. There are a handful of precedents from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where, best we can tell, the law was whatever it was convenient for the victor to assert. But, if one were to try and extract a doctrine out of those precedents, it would be that, while a victorious invader inherits the debts of the nation it invaded, it does not necessarily inherit debts incurred to resist the invasion. The doctrine even has a name: the law of “war debts”. To quote a 1924 treatise, “A creditor who advances money to a belligerent during a war to some extent adventures his money on the faith of the borrower’s success”.

That’s nuts. That doctrine incentivizes potential lenders to invest in the debt of the more powerful actor, even if the less powerful actor has a legitimate right to self-defense. It is perhaps not surprising that such an upside-down rule existed in the colonial era, when great powers constructed the law to justify their acquisition of territory (the original articulation of this doctrine seems to come from Britain after the Boer War). But today? In the supposed post-colonial era when borders are supposed to be sacrosanct absent the most egregious violations of human rights and colonial acquisitions by force are not supposed to happen? When an aggressor launches an unprovoked attack (Mr. Putin has his own version, we recognize), it seems logical both that that the aggressor should bear the cost of the victim’s self-defense and those who funded it should be the ones at risk. This rule internalizes the cost of misbehavior and might help deter aggression. This rule seems to set the right incentives whether or not the aggressor nation winds up being victorious.

In the Russia-Ukraine context then, who should be responsible for the extra borrowing that Ukraine has to do to defend itself? If the goal is to cause the misbehaving actor to internalize the costs it is imposing, the answer is surely Russia. Furthermore, to the extent lenders helped finance the Russian invasion, they are the ones who should face a high risk of nonpayment, not those who funded the Ukrainian defense. If we were to imagine a situation, post-war, where the international community had to allocate a limited pool of assets (e.g., frozen Russian reserves), we’d probably say that claimants who funded Ukraine’s self-defense should have a higher priority than claimants who helped fund Russian misbehavior. That is especially so if the lenders to Russia had reason to expect misbehavior. Maybe Russia even told them in its risk disclosures whilst borrowing – “Hey, don’t be surprised if I get sanctioned in the future – because I tend to misbehave”. (see Tracy Alloway (here), Adam Tooze (here), and us (here) on this).

None of this is rocket science. One of the things that legal rules are supposed to do is to incentivize good behavior and disincentivize bad behavior. As of this writing, the World Bank has just announced an emergency financing package of $700 million for Ukraine. Maybe that lending will be repaid by Russia, in a post invasion scenario on the theory that multilateral institutions such as the World Bank are not allowed to finance military expenditures. We don’t remember seeing any multilateral organization exception in the law of war debts though.

More important though, Ukraine needs financial assistance to defend itself and is surely going to be trying to borrow from the private markets. And lenders are going to be reluctant to fund it (or, will charge more) if they think they face significant risk of non-payment if Russia wins. Whether one liked it or not, risk disclosures would probably have to be made in the prospectus regarding the doctrines of state succession and war debts.

But what if the rule instead were that those who provided financing to Ukraine during these dire times were to have first shot at those frozen Russian assets in the post war period? (in legal lingo, priority)? Those risk disclosures and the pricing of the financing of the Ukrainian resistance might be different.

Maybe, just maybe, the free nations of the world (including those former colonial powers who created these doctrines) should announce a new and improved doctrine of war debts for the modern era: Spoils don’t go to the aggressor.

The "American Default" of 1933 and Some Possible Sanctions

posted by Mitu Gulati

Last week, my International Debt class was fortunate last week to have the opportunity to talk to Sebastian Edwards about his wonderful book “American Default”.  The book tells the astonishing (to me at least) story of the abrogation of gold clauses in US corporate and government bonds in 1933 and how that abrogation is then upheld by at 5-4 vote of the US Supreme Court in 1935.  Equally astonishing, as Sebastian’s book describes, the spillover effects in terms of costs to US future government borrowing, were near zero.  If anything, USG bonds were oversubscribed.

Our class session with Sebastian was last Wednesday and the world has witnessed some remarkable and disturbing events since then in Ukraine.  In the wake of our discussion of FDR’s 1933 abrogation of the gold clauses though, I found myself wondering about the following hypothetical for purposes of class discussion.

A large country, Bearland, brags that it has $630 billion of international reserves, the largest portion of which is held in the form of US Treasury bonds. 

Tomorrow afternoon the US Congress passes the following law:

Commencing at 12:00 noon EST on February 26, 2022, holders of US Government debt securities will be required, in order to redeem those instruments at maturity, to certify that neither they nor any predecessor in title to the securities has ever invaded the Republic of Ukraine.   Securities owned by any holder who cannot make this certification will be redeemed at maturity and the proceeds deposited in a blocked account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  

Context: Acme Capital, a New York based hedge fund, has acquired $1 billion of US Treasury bonds previously owned by Bearland.  Acme sues to declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable. You are a law clerk to Justice Gelpern on the US Supreme Court.   She has asked you this question:  Don’t the Gold Clause cases from 1935 control this issue?   After all, Acme is getting its money so they are not harmed in that sense.  Acme just doesn’t like the fact that the money is blocked at the Fed”.

The foregoing strikes me as example of a situation in which the justices (and law clerks) must not only consider the legal correctness of the advice, but also its real world consequences.  In other words, very much the situation in 1935.

In the Bearland example, the legal question is whether the Bearland legislation imposes an ex post interference with contract or unconstitutional taking of Acme’s property by requiring the no-invasion certification.   

Advising that the measure is kosher, however, potentially puts all USG debt at risk of political interference. To see this, just change the words “invade Ukraine” in the Bearland certification to “invade Taiwan”.  Would any foreign state be prepared to buy US Treasury bonds knowing that they could be weaponized at any moment?  How much would that add to the interest rate on those bonds? Anything?

I wonder whether folks at the UST are considering strategies along these lines.  Maybe?

Law School Rankings: How Much do They Really Matter?

posted by Mitu Gulati

I've long assumed that law school rankings are very important to law student choices regarding where to attend school. After all, why else would law schools themselves care so much about the rankings -- sometimes even hiring and firing deans based on this single variable (my assumption here is the most in the academy don't see there to be much of substance in the rankings -- but I may be wrong).

A wonderful new study from Albert Yoon and Jesse Rothstein, "Choice as Revelation" two of my favorite empiricists in the academy (I loved their prior paper about mismatch), challenges the conventional wisdom.  As I understand the core finding, students don't attach much difference to small differences in rankings. They care about other things in these choices among close competitors.  Strikes me that this is an important finding.

This is not to say that students don't care at all about rankings; they do -- especially at the very top (Harvard, Stanford, Yale).  After that though, not so much.  

The abstract reads:

Education is a credence good. While the virtues of education are widely embraced, its qualities are difficult to discern, even among its consumers. The sizeable and increasing cost of tuition – as in the case of U.S. law schools – only add to the stakes. In response, law school rankings have emerged, with the purported goal to help students make more informed choices. While these rankings have generated both interest and debate, an important question has remained unanswered: how do prospective law students perceive these schools? Drawing upon data provided by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), we analyze the universe of law school applications for the period 1989 through 2017, creating a revealed preference ranking of law schools based solely on where applicants choose to matriculate given their offers of admission. We find that applicants strongly prefer Yale, Stanford, and Harvard, and to a lesser extent other schools in the top 20, but do not draw such sharp distinctions outside of these schools. For all but the very top schools, we cannot rule out that schools adjacent in the rankings are equally preferred by admitted students. We also separately analyze the application, admission, and matriculation stages of the law school matching process. Applicants apply broadly, we find, but that admissions and matriculation decisions hew closely to academic indicators. Our revealed preference rankings are similar those of the U.S. News law rankings at the top but bear little resemblance for the remaining schools. Our rankings offer a compelling alternative to commercial rankings, which are opaque and highly manipulatable. Our analyses also highlight the limitations of ordinal rankings, which by themselves can suggest meaningful differences amongst alternatives where they do not exist.

The Super Cool Belize "Debt for Coral Reefs" Restructuring

posted by Mitu Gulati

This blog post draws on ideas developed with Ugo Panizza (Professor of International Economics, Graduate Institute) that form part of a paper we are working on. I am to blame for any errors though. 

In 2020, the stock of public debt in debt in developing and emerging market economies surpassed $19 trillion and reached 63% of the group’s GDP (up from 55% in 2019). Such levels of debt significantly increase the risk of multiple devastating debt crises hitting the global economy at the roughly the same time; a situation not seen since the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s. This is a scary prospect at a time when nations need to scale-up investment in climate change and sustainable growth.

The recent restructuring of Belize’s sovereign debt is an example of how a country can address a debt crisis while preserving investment that can promote sustainable growth. Hard hit by covid-19, Belize is restructuring its sovereign debt for the fifth time in two decades. So, why is this debt restructuring so exciting?

Continue reading "The Super Cool Belize "Debt for Coral Reefs" Restructuring" »

The Cheekiest Artist of Modern Times?

posted by Mitu Gulati

One of the students in my 1L Contracts class pointed me to this delightful article from the New York Times -- delightful because this is going to be so fun for us to discuss in class (here)

Here is the story as I understand it. A Danish artist, Jens Haaning, was commissioned by a Danish museum (the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art) to reproduce a couple of his prior works, where he had framed piles of real euros and kroner to symbolize wages and work in Austria and Denmark.  To do the reproduction work, the artist was paid 10,000 kroner and then also given a bunch of cash (532, 549 kroner) to put in the installation pieces.

The cheeky artist sent in a couple of blank canvases titled "Take the Money and Run", which seem to describe exactly what he did.  (The Times article literally has multiple photos of guests to the museum admiring the blank canvases -- or at least looking at them with interest).

The artist says that he gave them art -- symbolizing taking the money and running, (a modern critique of capitalism?). The museum director, Mr. Lasse Anderson (representing the capitalist museum?), appears neither amused nor pleased. He says: breach of contract.  

It is simply not possible to make this stuff up.  Maybe Tess and Dave will do an episode about this case for their brilliant Promises, Promises podcast?

I very much want the artist to win the contract suit. But if the museum director is right that the contract was for a reproduction of the prior piles of cash pieces (which seems likely from what the Times piece tells us), Jens will probably have to give the moolah back.  But not until after having gotten international notoriety as the cheekiest artist of modern times. And maybe that's all he was going for after all. Win win. 

I can only begin to imagine the kind of fun opinion someone like Richard Posner might have written on a case like this.

Many thanks to Maggie Rosenberg, 1L at U Virginia.

Scott & Kraus on the Private Law Podcast -- Magnifique!

posted by Mitu Gulati

Last year, when I was in zoom teaching hell and desperately looking for videos or podcasts with my contracts heroes to try and give my students a window into the magic of contract law and theory, I was unable to find anything at all that I could use for class from Bob Scott and Jody Kraus.  Lots of erudite law journal articles, yes. But I hate lengthy law review articles. I wanted to hear them talk and answer questions. 

My prayers have been answered, thanks to Felipe Jimenez's wonderful Private Law Podcast (here). The episode posted today is about Bob and Jody's wonderful and special collaboration that has given the world of contract law so much. And Felipe is brilliant in his gentle but insightful questioning (as an aside, if you are a fan of contracts theory, you might also like the episode with Brian Bix; I loved it).

Thank you, Felipe. Thank you, Bob and Jody. 

Coral Reef Protection in Exchange for Debt Relief: Could it Really Work?

posted by Mitu Gulati

Belize, as of this writing, is undertaking a restructuring of its sovereign bonds. Hard hit by covid and general economic woes, this is that nation’s fifth debt restructuring over the past decade and a half. This time though, Belize is trying to do something different with its restructuring.  Something that just might contain lessons for other emerging market nations struggling with covid related economic downturns.

Using funding from the environmental group, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Belize is doing a bond buyback, offering investors around 50% of face value.  Once purchased, the bonds are to be cancelled.  Belize has collective action clauses in the so-called superbond in question, so the deal will be binding on all holders of its external debt if a supermajority of creditors (75%) agree to the deal.  The dynamics of collective action clauses have been examined in excruciating detail elsewhere and I won’t get into that here. What interests me, and has intrigued many in the financial press (e.g., see here,  here, here, here, and here) is Belize’s attempt to tie a promise to behave in a greener fashion in the future to its request for debt relief from investors.

Specifically, Belize is promising investors that it will, in conjunction with TNC set aside a significant portion of the funds that it will save from doing the restructuring for environmental protection endeavors in the future (Belize's gorgeous coral reefs feature prominently in most accounts of the deal). As explained by a Belizean official:

As an integral part of the offer to repurchase the bonds, Belize will commit to its bondholders to transfer an amount equal to 1.3% of the country’s 2020 GDP to fund a Marine Conservation Endowment Account to be administered by a TNC affiliate. After a period in which the Endowment Account will retain its investment earnings in order to reach a targeted aggregate size, the annual earnings on the Account will thereafter be used, in perpetuity, to fund marine conservation projects in Belize identified by TNC and approved by the Government of Belize.

I have at least four questions that strike me as relevant to figuring out whether this strategy can work for other nations also facing covid related debt restructuring needs.

Continue reading "Coral Reef Protection in Exchange for Debt Relief: Could it Really Work?" »

Bypassing the Indenture Trustee?

posted by Mitu Gulati

Mark Weidemaier & Mitu Gulati

Earlier today we had a great time recording a Clauses and Controversies episode about the Province of Buenos Aires restructuring, which should post sometime next week. Our guest was Bloomberg reporter Scott Squires, who knows the Argentine context inside out and has also taken a deep dive into the mechanics and details of this restructuring. We got to talk about the PBA’s various shenanigans, and one aspect of our conversation continues to confuse us all. PBA offered to pay past due interest to creditors who consented to the restructuring; non-consenters did not receive the payment.

In the post linked above we wondered whether this payment, when added to PBA’s various threats, made the deal coercive. And we wondered why creditors, despite receiving fairly generous financial terms, were willing to accept this treatment. One answer we got from multiple sources is that it is simply too difficult and time consuming to deal with the trustee. Basically, it’s hard to get the trustee to act. First, holders of 25% in principal amount must instruct it to bring suit, then they have to negotiate the trustee’s indemnity, etc. And all this takes time. Meanwhile, the so-called “no action” clause in the indenture blocks individual bondholders from filing suit unless and until the trustee fails to act for 60 days. Perhaps any challenge the PBA’s conduct required quick, forceful legal action, but bondholders upset by the deal couldn’t muster the required 25% support or viewed the delay inherent in this process as a deal-breaker.

This would all make sense, were it not for the unusual drafting of another contract term. The clause played an important role in a lawsuit initially filed by Goldentree, one of PBA’s biggest creditors. Goldentree later changed course and were viewed as one of the drivers of the eventual deal. But the lawsuit was premised on the ability of individual bondholders to circumvent the trustee, found in this language (emphasis ours):

[E]ach Holder of Debt Securities shall have the right, which is absolute and unconditional, to receive payment of the principal of and interest on (including Additional Amounts) its Debt Security on the stated maturity date for such payment expressed in such Debt Security (as such Debt Security may be amended or modified pursuant to Article Eleven) and to institute suit for the enforcement of any such payment, and such right shall not be impaired without the consent of such Holder.

Our issuer-side friends have scoffed at this reading, telling us that the “no action” clause plainly requires all bondholder litigation to go through the trustee, at least until the bond has matured. That may be the common understanding. But that reading isn’t easy to square with the language above, which can plausibly be read to give individual investors the right to sue for missed coupon payments. Investors have a right to get “principal and interest on . . . the stated maturity date for such payment.” This is an unusual formulation. It is natural to say that principal comes due on the maturity date. But interest? Does interest “mature?” Our issuer-side friends would say, we assume, that the use of “stated maturity date” reinforces their understanding of the effect of the no action clause. But that reading seems to ignore the language “for such payment” (underlined above). This seems quite clearly to refer to individual payments, and the clause refers to both principal and interest. And it seems perfectly reasonable to interpret all of this to mean that, on the date when the interest is due, the interest obligation matures. Under this reading, investors can always sue for missed payments. It is other litigation—such as an acceleration in response to a cross-default trigger—that must go through the trustee.

Anyway, reading further, the clause says that an investor’s right to “such payment” – i.e., the interest that was due – and to institute suit” cannot be impaired “without the consent of such Holder.” That would at least arguably have enabled individual bondholder suits for past interest.

Again, many of our contacts in the market think this reading is nonsense and ignores the purpose and history of this clause. And we don’t really have a strong opinion as to which reading is correct. But we do think the reading above—which is presumably the reading underlying Goldentree’s suit—is plausible. Certainly there is a fairly straightforward argument to that effect based on the text of the clause, and text seems to matter quite a bit to judges applying New York law. It never ceases to amaze us how many seemingly settled questions—at least in the eyes of market participants—are not well reflected in contract language.

Investors in Province of Buenos Aires Bonds Might Want to Look at their Prescription Clauses

posted by Mitu Gulati

Mark Weidemaier & Mitu Gulati

The Province of Buenos Aires (PBA) is about to conclude its much delayed exchange offer. The exchange offer has been revised over and over and has featured many restructuring techniques detested by investors (Pac Man, re-designation, hard-nosed exit consents). But it seems as if the exchange may finally go through.

Rather than write about redesignation or any of the more salient features of the exchange, we want to discuss a more obscure feature, which differs in the two types of bond contracts PBA is offering. (Investors don’t have a choice; those with old bonds (from 2006) get one set of provisions and those with newer bonds (from 2015) get another.) This post is about the different prescription provisions being offered to the two types of bondholders, old and new.

Continue reading "Investors in Province of Buenos Aires Bonds Might Want to Look at their Prescription Clauses" »

Afsharipour on "Women and M&A"

posted by Mitu Gulati

I'm writing to second Melissa's wonderful post (below) on Afra Afsharipour's recent article.  My thanks to Melissa for pointing out this super piece.

There is a rich literature on the question of the gender gap in the legal profession, with wonderful work by scholars such as Elizabeth Gorman, Ronit Dinotvitzer, Fiona Kay, Joyce Sperling and others. One of the gaps in this literature that I've found over the years though is the lack of in-depth analyses of particular practice areas or individual firms.  Many of the analyses look at the gender gaps in the fractions of law students, junior associates and partners and stop there (I am guilty as charged on this). But, of course, we know (or at least suspect) that there is likely tremendous variation across fields. Understanding that variation might help us better understand what causes the gender gap and how to remedy it.

Continue reading "Afsharipour on "Women and M&A"" »

The Emperor's Old Bonds

posted by Mitu Gulati

Andres Paciuc, Mike Chen & Charlie Fendrych, have just published their delightful paper on Chinese Imperial Debt in the Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law. This is a version of a paper that they did for my sovereign debt class with Mark Weidemaier a few years ago. Bravo! The paper is available here.

Here is the abstract:

Recent news articles have suggested that Trump’s trade war may finally provide relief to American holders of defaulted, pre-1950s Chinese bonds. Here, we examine the hurdles set before these bondholders, namely establishing jurisdiction over the People’s Republic of China as a sovereign and the long-lapsed statute of limitations. We also evaluate the Chinese government’s possible recourse.

Our investigation yielded key takeaways. First, to establish jurisdiction in the U.S., the bond must be denominated in U.S. Dollars or state a place of performance within the country. Second, to overcome the long-expired statute of limitations and win an equitable remedy, it must be shown that the PRC violated an absolute priority or pari passu clause and is a “uniquely recalcitrant” debtor. Finally, despite China’s commitment to the odious debt doctrine, the doctrine is unlikely to provide meaningful legal protection in an otherwise successful suit. Overall, it is a difficult suit to bring. However, through our investigations, we have discovered one issue in particular which holds the greatest danger—or perhaps the greatest promise: the Chinese Government 2-Year 6% Treasury Notes of 1919.

Cheeky Cruise Company Lawyering

posted by Mitu Gulati

This past week’s episode of Andrew Jennings’ Business Scholarship Podcast tells a wonderful story of sneaky cruise ship lawyering. Andrew’s guest was John Coyle, contracts/choice-of-law guru. The discussion focused on the 11th Circuit’s recent decision in Myhra v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., and John’s new article about that case, “Cruise Contracts, Public Policy, and Foreign Forum Selection Clauses”  

The backdrop to this story is US federal law that constrains cruise companies from contracting to limit liability in the small print of their contracts with customers; contract provisions that few read and fewer still pay attention to.  John explains:

46 U.S.C. § 30509 . . . prohibits cruise companies from writing provisions into their passenger contracts that limit the company’s liability for personal injury or death incurred on cruises that stop at a U.S. port.  The policy goal underlying this statute is simple.  A cruise contract is the prototypical contract of adhesion.  Absent the constraints imposed by the statute, a cruise company could write language into its passenger contracts that would absolve the company from liability for passenger injuries even when the company was at fault.  The statute clearly states that such provisions are void as against U.S. public policy and directs courts not to give them any effect.

That strikes me as a pretty clear dictate to the courts.  And if I were a cruise company contract lawyer, I’d be worried about trying to draft around such a clear dictate.  (Wouldn’t courts, customers, and just about everyone else look with disfavor upon such sneakiness?). Cruise company lawyers though, at least in the 11th Circuit (which is the key circuit for such matters, since it covers Florida) have figured out a back door way around the explicit prohibition by using a combination of forum selection and governing law clauses.  This enables them to limit liability to foreign customers, even though they are taking the same cruise as their US counterparts.  John’s article explains:

Notwithstanding this clear statement of U.S. policy, cruise companies have worked diligently to develop a workaround to Section 30509 for passengers who reside outside the United States. First, the companies write choice-of-law clauses into their passenger contracts selecting the law of the passenger’s home country.  In many cases, the enforcement of such clauses will result in the application of the Athens Convention, a multilateral treaty which caps the liability of cruise ship companies.  When the Athens Convention applies, an injured cruise ship passenger generally cannot recover more than $66,000 in a tort suit against the cruise ship company.  In this way, the cruise company seeks to accomplish indirectly through a choice-of-law clause what it could not achieve directly via a contract provision limiting their liability.

I’m astonished.  Surely a US federal court would not permit such a sneaky workaround.  And John’s article explains, after canvasing a large set of cases across a range of subject areas, that that is the case. Except, maybe, if you are a cruise company litigating in the 11th Circuit against a foreign customer.

Continue reading "Cheeky Cruise Company Lawyering" »

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.

Elliott, Apollo, Caesar's Palace and a Bunch of Bankruptcy Law Professors

posted by Mitu Gulati

One of the most dramatic stories in corporate finance and bankruptcy over the past decade has been the Caesar's Palace battle between a bunch of hard nosed distressed debt hedge funds and big bad private equity shops.  A bunch of masters of the universe types fighting it out to the death. (For my part: I'm interested in this because some of the big players from the Argentine pari passu battle are involved and there was a battle over the aggressive use of Exit Consents).

Turns out that this Caesar's story is going to be front and center at an upcoming bankruptcy conference that three good friends, Bob Rasmussen, Mike Simkovic and Samir Parikh are running, where one of the authors of "The Caesar's Palace Coup", the FT's Sujeet Indap, is going to be on a panel with the heavy hitters, Ken Liang, Bruce Bennett and Richard Davis. I always find it fascinating to hear how financial journalists and law professors, both of whom have dug deep into a set of events, tell the same story. 

The formal announcement, courtesy of Samir Parikh, is here:

Continue reading "Elliott, Apollo, Caesar's Palace and a Bunch of Bankruptcy Law Professors" »

The $900 Million Back Office Error

posted by Mitu Gulati

I love this story -- a bank erroneously sends money to a bunch of lenders who are angry with the bank and the debtor for other reasons. The bank discovers the computer error and asks for its money back. The angry lenders refuse to give back what was clearly an erroneous deposit. There is litigation. And the court says to the lenders who received the erroneous deposit: You can keep the money.  

I remember telling my students in Contracts about it when the news was first reported, and the matter had not been to court yet. I told them that this was an easy case and that the lenders would have to give the money back.  If memory serves, I told them something along the lines of: "If a bank erroneously deposits money in your account, you don't get to keep it. You have to give back what is not yours. Finders are not automatically keepers." I was wrong, to put it mildly.

Elisabeth de Fontenay has a delightful piece on this that is coming out soon in the Capital Markets Law Journal (here). Among other things, Elisabeth asks the deeper question of why it is that lenders and borrowers these days seem to be asserting what look to be highly opportunistic claims on a much more frequent basis than in the past. It used to be -- or so the veteran lawyers in this business tell me --  that reputation and norms constrained these repeat players from misbehaving. Not these days.

Of course, there is more to the story, like why the judge (Jesse Furman) ruled the way he did. Turns out that there was a wormy precedent directing him and he was not willing to turn the usual judicial cartwheels to produce the "fair" outcome. Or maybe, in terms of weighing bad behavior on the two sides, he found shenanigans on both sides and decided to just follow precedent? Or maybe Judge Furman hates the big banks? I'm kidding (I think very highly of Judge Furman), but he has decided a number of big commercial cases recently that have caused drama (e.g., here (Windstream) and here (Cash America)).

The abstract for Elisabeth's paper is here:

The Citibank case dealt with a $900 million payment sent in error to the lenders of Revlon, Inc., in the midst of a fraught dispute over the loan restructuring. Surprising most market participants, the court ruled that the lenders who refused to return the funds to the administrative agent were entitled to keep the money. The case (currently on appeal) attracted commentary primarily due to the sheer size of the payment error, and the corresponding risks posed by “back-office” functions at financial institutions. But Citibank also highlights the widening gap in leveraged finance between the wishes and expectations of market participants and the actual outcomes they achieve under either (1) common-law default rules or (2) heavily negotiated contracts. In particular, the case raises questions such as (1) whether New York law remains an appropriate default choice for financing transactions; (2) whether the common-law of contracts does or should continue to have relevance for financing transactions among sophisticated parties; and (3) whether parties truly can contract for their desired outcomes when opportunistic behavior is prevalent in the market.

For more, Matt Levine of Bloomberg has a hilarious piece, here. It talks about the back office disaster in India and how this goof actually happened (as an aside, the firm involved on the Indian side is a highly respected one -- this was no fly by night operation).  Matt also talks about the wonderfully named Banque Worms case.  One could not make this stuff up even if one wanted to.

I'm hoping that my favorite business law podcaster, Andrew Jennings (here), will do an episode on this soon.

Contributors

Current Guests

Kindle and ePub Versions of Bankruptcy Code

  • Free Kindle and ePub versions of the Bankruptcy Code are available through Credit Slips. For details and links, visit the original blog post announcing the availability of these files.

Follow Us On Twitter

News Feed

Honors

  •    

Categories

Bankr-L

  • 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.

OTHER STUFF

Powered by TypePad