The Costs of Corporate Bankruptcy: How Little We Know

Author: Stephen J. Lubben, Seton Hall University School of Law

lubben-176x220_1 For almost as long as there have been bankruptcy laws, there have been complaints that the primary beneficiaries of these laws are insiders who administer the bankruptcy system. In recent decades, this line of criticism has carried with it an implicit criticism of bankruptcy courts, which are urged to more aggressively police the costs of bankruptcy. Indeed, at least one recent critic has unkindly suggested that the failure of the courts to control bankruptcy costs is the result of a corrupt bargain between bankruptcy courts and practitioners.

Rarely addressed is why bankruptcy courts regulate professional costs at all. In most areas of American law, a professional is accountable solely to its client. Complaints about excessive cost might result in a separate malpractice action, but a client who thinks they have been overcharged for the defense of their speeding ticket will find little relief in traffic court. Why is bankruptcy different?

This paper begins to look at this question with brief overview of the concept of bankruptcy costs, traditionally divided between direct and indirect costs. I next turn to a consideration of the process for overseeing bankruptcy costs. I briefly trace the history of court control of compensation in corporate bankruptcy, and then detail the current legal structure. The final part of the chapter then surveys the existing understanding of chapter 11 cost, and concludes with a some thoughts on the important questions that remain unanswered.

In short, we know a bit about direct costs, but very little about any other sort of costs. Moreover, what we know is almost entirely lacking in context. This makes it quite hard to understand if the existing system of cost regulation is either useful or justified.

This article is available here.


The Value of Soft Variables in Corporate Reorganizations

By Michelle Harner, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

When a company is worth more as a going concern than on a liquidation basis, what creates that additional value?  Is it the people, management decisions, the simple synergies of the operating business, or some combination of these types of soft variables?  And perhaps more importantly, who owns or has an interest in such soft variables?  These questions are important in all contexts, but hold particular significance in corporate reorganizations where a company’s liabilities frequently exceed the value of its assets.  The value available to satisfy creditors’ claims is limited, and determining the parties’ respective rights to that value is often hotly contested and critical to an effective resolution.  My article, The Value of Soft Variables in Corporate Reorganizations, 2015 Ill. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming), explores these questions under existing legal doctrine and practice norms.

The basic thesis of the article is that soft variables contribute meaningful value to the operation of a company as a going concern but are often overlooked or undervalued in corporate reorganizations.  Ignoring soft variables not only does a disservice to those working hardest to save the company but also arguably steals value from the company and those constituencies.  If a company’s soft variables do not hold such value, it may indicate that a chapter 7 liquidation is the more appropriate resolution for the company.  But if the company invokes the chapter 11 process and the resolution generates value above liquidation or book value, the court and the parties should identify the relevant soft variables and allocate value accordingly.

A longer summary of the article can be found here, and the full article can be found here.

Creditor Conflict and the Efficiency of Corporate Reorganization

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Mark Jenkins at University of Pennsylvania and David C. Smith at University of Virginia

While a rich set of theories make clear that incentive conflicts between senior and junior claimants in a company’s capital structure may lead to inefficient outcomes, empirical evidence on how often these conflicts do so has been limited. In this paper, we study the incentives of senior claimants to force inefficient liquidations, or liquidations in which a firm’s assets are sold for less than the firm’s value as a going concern. We develop a bargaining model that assumes senior creditors can exert strong control over whether a firm reorganizes or liquidates during the bankruptcy process. The estimable parameters of the model allow us to gauge the efficiency of bankruptcy outcomes using a large sample of U.S. corporate bankruptcy cases over the period 1989 to 2011.

The main result of the paper is an estimate of the value loss that results from inefficient liquidations in bankruptcy. We estimate these losses to be up to 0.28 percent of the going-concern value of the firm, on average, across all bankrupt firms in our sample. As predicted by theory, these losses are realized primarily by firms with asset values that are close to the face value of secured debt. Our estimate of efficiency losses is driven by several auxiliary findings, including estimates of the fraction of firms that are efficiently reorganized, the fraction of firms that are efficiently and inefficiently liquidated, and the average liquidation discount faced by firms in bankruptcy.

The full article can be found here.

Delaware District Court Affirms Order Approving Gifting In Chapter 11 Case

posted in: Avoidance | 0

Author: Mindy Mora of Billzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, LLP

In an unusual but practical decision, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware affirmed a bankruptcy court order which approved both a sale of the debtors’ assets and the establishment of an escrow account to provide a “gift” to fund a distribution to the debtors’ unsecured creditors.  What is significant about this decision is that it approved the use of gifting in a chapter 11 bankruptcy case.  LCI Holding Company, Inc., civ. no. 13-924 (D. Del. March 10, 2014).

The concept of gifting in a bankruptcy case allows a secured creditor or purchaser to overcome objections to a sale of assets interposed by the debtor’s unsecured creditors.  Often, the gift consists of a pool of funds for distribution to the debtors’ unsecured creditors, and bypasses the claims of priority creditors with more senior claims.  See In re SPM Mfg. Corp., 984 F.2d 1305 (1st Cir. 1993).

A distribution that bypasses priority claims raises the issue of whether gifting is permissible in a chapter 11 case, based upon the requirement that distributions under a plan of reorganization must comply with the Bankruptcy Code, including the priority scheme for distributions to creditors and the absolute priority rule set forth in Bankruptcy Code § 1129(b)(2)(B).  This type of compliance is not mandated in chapter 7 cases, in which bankruptcy courts have authorized gifting more regularly.  See id.  Apparently in Delaware, gifting is permitted in a chapter 11 case, so long as the sale of assets is followed by a dismissal of the case without the confirmation of a plan.

Link to full article

Eighth Circuit Expands Subsequent New Value Preference Defense in Cases Involving Three-Party Relationships

posted in: Avoidance | 0

Authors:  Charles M. Oellermann and Mark G. Douglas

A bankruptcy trustee or chapter 11 debtor-in-possession has the power under section 547 of the Bankruptcy Code to avoid a transfer made immediately prior to bankruptcy if the transfer unfairly prefers one or more creditors over the rest of the creditor body. However, not every payment made by a debtor on the eve of bankruptcy can be avoided merely because it appears to be preferential. Indeed, section 547 provides several statutory defenses to preference liability. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed one such defense to preference avoidance—the “subsequent new value” exception. In Stoebner v. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (In re LGI Energy Solutions, Inc.), 746 F.3d 350 ( (8th Cir. 2014), the court, in a matter of first impression, ruled that “new value” (either contemporaneous or subsequent) for purposes of section 547(c) can be provided by an entity other than the transferee.

LGI Energy is a positive development for those doing business with financially troubled entities because it expands the scope of the subsequent new value defense to encompass payment relationships involving multiple parties. In one sense, the ruling can be viewed as an instance of judicial activism directed at harmonizing the Bankruptcy Code with the realities of complex financial transactions. However, it could be argued that the Eighth Circuit’s decision was motivated more by equitable and policy considerations than by a careful examination of the plain meaning of section 547(c)(4).

The full-length article can be found here.