Bankruptcy’s Corporate Tax Loophole

By Diane Lourdes Dick, Seattle University School of Law

AvvoPhotoMy recent article, Bankruptcy’s Corporate Tax Loophole, 82 Fordham L. Rev. 2273 (2014), explains how corporate debtors use Chapter 11 to divert the value of tax losses and credits to a select group of stakeholders in contravention of bankruptcy’s distributional norms.

The problem stems from an ambiguity at the intersection of federal tax and bankruptcy law. Bankruptcy-specific exceptions in the tax laws transform a corporate debtor’s tax attributes into marketable property that, in many cases, gives the bankruptcy estate its intrinsic value. Yet bankruptcy law’s most vital safeguards neglect to fully take into account these tax assets, leaving them vulnerable to siphoning by dominant stakeholders who are in a position to extract excess returns.

Most notably, the debtor’s valuable tax attributes slip through the cracks of the “fair and equitable” test for contested Chapter 11 plans. The analysis requires, in pertinent part, that the court evaluate whether the plan provides each impaired and dissenting creditor with at least as much as it would have received in a hypothetical Chapter 7 liquidation. But testing a Chapter 11 plan against a hypothetical liquidation naturally omits the debtor’s tax attributes from consideration, as they would be extinguished when the liquidated debtor is subsequently dissolved. This means that the “fair and equitable” analysis ignores the very existence of what may be the debtor’s most valuable asset.

This extraordinary gap not only facilitates inequitable allocations of economic benefits and burdens in Chapter 11 but also causes a much broader, systematic misallocation of resources. I recommend statutory revisions to the federal tax and bankruptcy laws to neutralize the tax consequences of corporate restructuring decisions.

The full-length article can be found here and here. 

Revisiting the Recidivism-Chapter 22 Phenomenon in the U.S. Bankruptcy System

Author: Edward I. Altman, NYU Stern School of Business

Altman bio picThis study finds that about 15% of all debtors, who emerge as continuing entities from reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or are acquired as part of the bankruptcy process, ultimately file for bankruptcy protection again. This recidivism rate spikes to 18.25% when considering only those firms which emerge as a continuing, independent entity. This highlights what appears to be a significant recidivism problem of our Chapter 11 system.

This article argues that the so-called “Chapter 22” issue should not be dismissed by the bankruptcy community as acceptable just because no interested party objected to the plan of reorganization during the confirmation hearing. Indeed, by applying the Z-Score model to large samples of Chapter 11 and Chapters 22, 33, and 44 firms, highly different and significant expected survival profiles are shown at the time of emergence. The bond-rating-equivalent of the multi-filing sample was CCC versus a BB-profile for the single-filing Chapter 11 sample. I believe that credible distress prediction techniques can be important indicators of the future success of firms emerging from bankruptcy and could even be used by the bankruptcy court in assessing the feasibility of the plan of reorganization – a responsibility that is embedded in the Bankruptcy Code.

The full article is available here.

 

Get in Line: Chapter 11 Restructuring in Crowded Bankruptcy Courts

By Benjamin Iverson, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

On average, total bankruptcy filings rise by 32% during economic recessions, leaving bankruptcy judges with far less time per case exactly when financial distress is worst.  The inflexible nature of the bankruptcy system coupled with the varying demands placed upon it, leads to the concern that time constraints might limit the effectiveness of bankruptcy when economic conditions deteriorate.

In my paper, “Get in Line: Chapter 11 Restructuring in Crowded Bankruptcy Courts,” I test whether Chapter 11 restructuring outcomes are affected by time constraints in busy bankruptcy courts.  Using the passage of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005 as a shock that decreased caseloads dramatically, I show that as bankruptcy judges become busier they tend to allow more firms to reorganize and liquidate fewer firms.  I interpret this as evidence that busy bankruptcy judges defer to the debtor in possession more often, scrutinizing each case less and thereby allowing reorganization more often.  In addition, I find that firms that reorganize in busy courts tend to spend longer in bankruptcy, while firms that are dismissed from busy courts are more likely to re-file for bankruptcy within three years of their original filing.

Perhaps most striking, I also show that busy courts impose costs on local banks, which report higher charge-offs on business lending when caseload increases.  If time constraints create higher costs of financial distress, it appears that these costs are typically passed on to the creditors of the bankrupt firms in the form of higher losses on distressed loans.

The full-length article can be found here.

 

Essential Corporate Bankruptcy Law

Authors:  Oscar Couwenberg & Stephen J. Lubben

In every economy, the question of what to do with financially distressed businesses is a matter of concern.   The United States has a long history of corporate restructuring law, starting with the reorganization of railroads in the nineteenth century and continuing through chapter 11 in its current form.   This naturally leads to a tendency to adopt chapter 11, or something like it.

But why?  In particular, chapter 11 is a rather ornate system of corporate reorganization, and it has been adorned with elements that reflect little more than particular creditors’ ability to lobby Congress.

We reexamine chapter 11 to understand its core.  In short, what, if any, are the essential elements of corporate bankruptcy law?

We point to two facets of chapter 11:  asset stabilization and asset separation.  These two aspects of chapter 11 could not be established other than by statute, and jurisdictions looking to reform their corporate bankruptcy processes should focus there.

Asset stabilization is the ability to temporarily protect assets as a coherent whole.  It includes obvious things like the stay on individual creditor collection, provision of post-bankruptcy liquidity and delays on termination of contracts with the debtor.

Asset separation captures the ability to separate assets from their concomitant liabilities.  This might take the form of a discharge, but is not necessary.  Essential is that the system provides clean title to a new owner of the assets, which may or may not be the post-bankruptcy firm.

As this is the core of any sensible corporate insolvency system, features beyond that are a matter of policy, and politics.

The full article can be found here.

Recent Lessons on Management Compensation at Various States of the Chapter 11

By James H. M. Sprayregen, Christopher T. Greco, and Neal Paul Donnelly, Kirkland & Ellis

Setting compensation for senior management can be among the most contentious issues facing companies reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Corporate debtors argue that such compensation—often in the form of base salary, bonuses, or stock of the reorganized company—helps retain and incentivize management, whose services are believed necessary to achieve a successful reorganization. Creditors, by contrast, may be loath to support compensation packages that they perceive as enriching the very managers who led the company into bankruptcy.

This tension over management compensation, though long present in corporate bankruptcy cases, has been more pronounced since 2005, when the US Congress added Section 503(c) to the Bankruptcy Code. Section 503(c) limits bankrupt companies’ freedom to give management retention bonuses, severance payments, or other ancillary compensation. For instance, under the current regime, a company cannot pay managers retention bonuses unless it proves to a bankruptcy court that the managers both provide essential services to the reorganizing business and that they have alternative job offers in hand. Even then, the Bankruptcy Code caps the amount of the retention bonuses. Severance payments to managers are similarly restricted by Section 503(c).…Read more here.

[This article first appeared in the March 2013 issue of Financier Worldwide magazine. Copyright Financier Worldwide 2014 all rights reserved. Reprinted with publishers permission. www.financierworldwide.com]

Capmark Decision Clarifies Insider Status for Market Participants

Authors: Marshall S. Huebner and Hilary A.E. Dengel, Davis Polk

Being deemed an “insider” has important ramifications for creditors in bankruptcy and can materially impact a creditor’s risk and recovery profile in any case.

In Capmark Financial Group Inc. v. Goldman Sachs Credit Partners L.P. (Capmark), the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York made several positive rulings on key insider status issues favorable to market participants who regularly find themselves, sometimes through affiliated entities, playing multiple roles with respect to a borrower counterparty.  Embracing the arguments advanced by the Goldman Sachs lending entities, the court rejected Capmark’s attempts to cast the lenders as “insiders” of Capmark based on an indirect equity interest in Capmark held by funds managed by certain of their affiliates – holding that Capmark failed to allege facts that would show the “extraordinary circumstances” required for veil piercing and stating that participation in an arm’s length transaction as an ordinary commercial lender will not give rise to non-statutory insider status.

The Capmark decision provides comfort and greater certainty to market participants that, absent falling into one of the expressly enumerated categories of insiders under the Bankruptcy Code, insider status should not attach to creditors who neither control a company nor deal with it at less than arm’s length.  The case is further discussed here in Capmark:  Clarifying Insider Status for Market Participants (ABI Journal, January 2014).

Bankruptcy Step Zero

Authors: Douglas G. Baird and Anthony J. Casey

In RadLAX Gateway Hotel, LLC v Amalgamated Bank, the Supreme Court’s statutory interpretation focuses on an emerging theme of its bankruptcy jurisprudence: the proper domain of the bankruptcy judge. While one might expect the Court to approach that question of domain as it has for administrative agencies, that is not the approach taken. This article explores the Court’s approach to bankruptcy’s domain. In doing so, we connect three principal strands of the Court’s bankruptcy jurisprudence. The first strand, embodied in Butner v United States, centers on the idea that the bankruptcy forum must vindicate nonbankruptcy rights. The second, most recently addressed in Stern v Marshall, focuses on the limits of bankruptcy judges in deciding and issuing final judgment on the issues before them. Bankruptcy judges must limit themselves to deciding issues central to the administration of the bankruptcy process. RadLAX is the continuation of a third strand that makes it plain that the Court reads ambiguous provisions of the Bankruptcy Code to narrow the range of decisions over which the bankruptcy judge may exercise her discretion — at least when the exercise of that discretion might impact nonbankruptcy rights. The resulting bankruptcy jurisprudence is in stark contrast with the Court’s approach in administrative law. This paper attempts to make sense of this state of affairs and connect it with the realities of bankruptcy practice today.

The article is available here on SSRN.

Bankruptcy and Economic Recovery

Authors: Thomas Jackson & David Skeel

A striking feature of the recent economic crisis was the long period of subpar economic growth that continued even after the crisis had officially ended.  Although discussion about how to spur economic recovery has focused on the efficacy of Keynesian stimulus spending, this is only one of many factors that might plausibly encourage growth.  For a book entitled “Financial Restructuring to Sustain Recovery,” published by the Brookings Institution, we were asked to discuss the role that bankruptcy policy plays, or might play, in economic recovery.

After summarizing how bankruptcy posits a collective solution to a common pool problem of individual creditors and thereby improves the efficient use of assets, we consider two obstacles to its effectiveness.  The first is that bankruptcy proceedings often seem to begin too late.  The increased influence of debtors’ principal lenders probably counteracts this problem in part, but we suspect not fully.  We consider a wide range of strategies that lawmakers might use to encourage timely filing, some of which are fairly simple, while others are more speculative.

The second major issue is the relationship between bankruptcy and jobs.  The question whether bankruptcy should be used to protect jobs is a recurring theme that came to the fore most recently when the government used bankruptcy to bail out Chrysler, justifying its intervention as preserving jobs.  We caution that distorting the standard bankruptcy rules—focused on efficient use of assets—to save jobs in the short run may have more problematic effects overall.

The full-length article can be found here.

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