Secured Credit and Effective Entity Priority

By Christopher W. Frost (University of Kentucky – College of Law)

The historical and doctrinal development of secured transactions and bankruptcy law has created a priority system that is asset based. Secured creditor priority is tied to the value of specific assets that constitute the secured creditor’s collateral and not to the value of the debtor itself. And yet, in corporate bankruptcy cases, lenders and their attorneys often assert broad claims to the entire enterprise value of the entity – that is to the present value of the cash flows that the entity will generate as a going concern. The doctrinal basis for such claims is often unstated, however, and several commentators have criticized the breadth of those claims under existing laws.

This article responds to those views  and argues that secured creditors can establish a broad enough security interest to create an “effective entity priority.”  The argument is premised on the notion that the broad secured claim creates a closed system in which all of the assets acquired relate, and can be traced, to pre-bankruptcy collateral. The secured creditor’s priority therefore may extend to the value of the entity, rather than the value of specific assets within the entity. Although the doctrinal claim is plausible, the article notes that it can be difficult to maintain under the facts of particular cases. Thus the article suggests that changes to the Bankruptcy Code and the Uniform Commercial Code that recognize true entity priority may provide clarity and efficiency to the bankruptcy process.

The full article is available here. The article is forthcoming in the Connecticut Law Review.

Creditor Governance

By William R. McCumber (College of Business, Louisiana Tech University) and Tomas Jandik (Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas)

A traditional view of creditors is that they are largely passive investors unless a borrower violates the terms of a loan agreement or misses a payment. However, like institutional shareholders, creditors hold concentrated positions in firm securities (loan shares), are sophisticated investors, and have access to senior management and non-public information. Since debt financing is much more common than equity financing, and because the great majority of credit agreements are honored, it is important to better understand how creditors advise and monitor portfolio (borrower) firms. We find that creditors play a significant role in corporate governance under normal circumstances, i.e. when firms are not in technical violation or default. Borrower firms are less likely than non-borrowers firms to file for bankruptcy in the intermediate future, and borrowers shift financial and investment decisions away from value-reducing policies and toward value-creating investments. Importantly, these changes are profitable for borrower firms since both cash flows and returns on assets improve at least three years after loan origination, which in turn decreases creditor portfolio risk. We also find that when creditors retain a larger proportion of the loan on their books, changes in borrower firm financials are more pronounced, providing evidence that creditors exert a greater governing force when more exposed to borrower risk.

The full article is available here.

A New Approach to Executory Contracts

By John A. E. Pottow (University of Michigan Law School)

Few bankruptcy topics have bedeviled courts—and busied commentators—as much as executory contracts. Perhaps the most nettlesome challenge is the problem of defining “executoriness,” which serves as the statutory gatekeeper to Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code and its extraordinary powers. Elite lawyers, who are the closest approximation to chapter 11 repeat players, have no ex ante incentive to fix a definition; in part succumbing to a vividness bias, they want to exploit executoriness’s inherent ambiguity to select the definition perceived to be most advantageous in any given case ad hoc. From Westbrook to Countryman before, authors have struggled to find a coherent and normatively defensible definition of executoriness (including Westbrook’s call for its abolition) that would stop this gamesmanship, and even the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Review Commission has now entered the debate.

This article takes a new approach. It suggests abandoning the bootless task of finding the right test and concedes that executoriness is here to stay. This new approach focuses on the residuum of the “non-executory contract.” Using the policies, structure, and text of the Code, it argues that many of Section 365’s provisions can be synthetically replicated elsewhere. Doing so will blunt the strategic incentive to invest resources fighting the absence or presence of executoriness ab initio by scuttling the payoff. Concomitant gains will accrue to all.

The full article is available here.

The Secret Life of Priority: Corporate Reorganization After Jevic, 93 WASH L. REV. 631 (2018)

By Jonathan C. Lipson (Temple University – James E. Beasley School of Law)

The Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. (In re Jevic) reaffirms that final distributions in chapter 11 cases must follow “absolute” priority absent the “consent” of priority creditors. The Court did not, however, define “consent” for this purpose, which is a problem, because consent can be hard to pinpoint in corporate reorganizations that involve hundreds or thousands of creditors and shareholders.

In this paper, I argue that, although the Jevic majority does not define consent, its reasoning reflects concerns about aspects of the reorganization process that may serve as proxies for it: stakeholder participation, outcome predictability, and procedural integrity.

First, I explain why “consent” is indeterminate in this context, inviting an inspection of process quality. Second, I assess Jevic’s process-value framework. Implementing Jevic’s values is not costless, so the Court’s commitment to them suggests that efficiency — the mantra of many scholars — is not the only or necessarily the most important value in reorganization. Third, I argue that these values conflict with the power that senior secured creditors have gained in recent years to control corporate reorganizations. Many worry that this power is the leading problem in corporate bankruptcy, producing needless expropriation and error. I also sketch opportunities that Jevic creates for scholars and practitioners who share these concerns.

Jevic reveals a secret: “priority” is not only about the order in which a corporate debtor pays its creditors, but also about the process by which it does so.

The full article is available here.

Bankruptcy Claims Trading

By Jared A. Ellias (University of California, Hastings)

Over the past twenty years, a robust secondary market has emerged in the debt of Chapter 11 firms. Critics worry that the trading associated with this market has undermined bankruptcy governance, by forcing managers to negotiate with shifting groups of activist investors in the Chapter 11 bargaining process. In my new Article, “Bankruptcy Claims Trading” I perform the first empirical study of trading in the financial claims of Chapter 11 debtors to learn more about how claims trading impacts the average Chapter 11 case. Using the entire record of trading in bond debt for all Chapter 11 debtors that filed for bankruptcy between 2002 and 2012, I find that nearly all Chapter 11 bonds trade very heavily throughout the bankruptcy process. However, I find that claims trading appears to be less important for bankruptcy governance than many critics fear. The activist groups that tend to participate in negotiations usually enter cases early and rarely change significantly. This suggests that bankruptcy claims trading is, on average, much more about passive investment and much less about activist entrance and exit.

The full article is available here.

Repo Markets Across the Atlantic: Similar but Unalike

By Songjiwen Wu (University of Heidelberg) and Hossein Nabilou (Universite du Luxembourg – Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance)

The vulnerabilities in the wholesale funding and in particular short-term (overnight) repurchase agreement (repo) markets were significant sources of systemic risk in the Global Financial Crisis. Numerous studies have investigated the role of repos in the crisis, but only a few scholars have explored why the European repo markets have weathered the crisis better than their US counterparts. With a focus on the underlying legal and structural features of repo markets across the Atlantic, our paper sets out to explain such a different outcome. In doing so, it sketches the key differences in the EU and the US repos by focusing on three main aspects of repo markets that are pivotal to highlighting potential vulnerabilities. First, it highlights the differences in the legal framework governing repos, such as legal construction of repo contracts, special bankruptcy treatment—the reform of which has been a key controversial issue across the Atlantic—and legal treatment of the reuse of collateral. Second, it discusses the composition, structure, and organization of the repo markets, such as differences in the composition of repo participants, maturity of repos, and the composition of the underlying collateral in repo contracts. Finally, it investigates the differences in the issues related to the market infrastructure of repo markets such as differences in the clearing and collateral management stages. The findings of our paper suggest that multiple legal and regulatory divergences, which could still pose challenges to the short-term funding markets, exist in repo markets across the Atlantic.

The full article is available here.

For previous Roundtable posts on repo markets, see Ganduri, “Repo Regret?“, and Morrison, Roe & Sontchi, “Rolling Back the Repo Safe Harbors“.

Bankruptcy Law as a Balancing System – Lessons from a Comparative Analysis of the Interaction Between Labor and Bankruptcy Laws

By Omer Kimhi (Haifa University Faculty of Law) and Arno Doebert (Independent)

The rehabilitation of distressed corporations often requires the reduction of labor costs. In order to regain economic stability, distressed firms need to terminate employees or modify their employment conditions. When employees are protected by statutes or by collective bargaining agreements, however, such measures are not always possible. The employer’s freedom to manage its work force is limited, and it may fail to implement labor reforms necessary for the firm’s recovery.

In the paper, we examine the intersection between bankruptcy and labor laws from a comparative perspective. We study the labor and bankruptcy laws of three different jurisdictions, the Netherlands, France, and Germany, and find a so far unexplored trend. Jurisdictions with high employment protection levels relax their otherwise rigid labor rules through their bankruptcy system. Within bankruptcy, employers enjoy greater flexibility and thus are better situated to decrease their labor costs and to reorganize.

The paper explores this trend vis-à-vis the arguments brought up by the procedural approach to bankruptcy. It looks at the rationale of the bankruptcy-induced modifications to the labor laws, and the effects these changes have on the bankruptcy process. We show that although the modifications are designed to promote the preservation of firms as going concerns, forum-shopping problems may lead to the opposite outcome. The analysis contributes to the ongoing debate between the traditional and procedural approaches, and sheds light on the interpretation of section 1113 of the Bankruptcy Code as well.

The full article is available here.




Valuation Disputes in Corporate Bankruptcy

Kenneth Ayotte (U.C. Berkeley School of Law); Edward R. Morrison (Columbia Law School)

In bankruptcy, valuation drives disputes. Prior bankruptcy scholarship points to disagreements about valuation and judicial valuation error as key drivers of Chapter 11 outcomes. Avoiding valuation disputes and errors is also the underlying driver of most proposed reforms to Chapter 11.

This paper studies all reported bankruptcy court opinions filed between 1990 and mid-2017 that provide detail about a valuation dispute and methodologies employed. We have two goals. The first is to understand how parties and their expert witnesses justify opposing views, and how judges decide between them. The second is to provide practical guidance to judges.

We find sharper disagreement among experts regarding inputs to the discounted cash flow method (DCF) than regarding inputs to multiples-based methods. In nearly half of cases involving DCF, experts fight over the discount rate; in nearly three quarters, they fight over cash flow projections. By contrast, disagreement over inputs to multiples-based methods, such as the choice of comparable companies, occurs in less than a fifth of the cases. This pattern helps explain why many judges view DCF as far more complex and error-prone than multiples-based methods.

There are also surprisingly pervasive (and often self-serving) errors in expert testimony. This is particularly true when valuation experts apply DCF. The choice of discount rates is frequently unsupported by, and often at odds with, finance theory and evidence. We also find experts strategically weighting methods with values most favorable to their clients.

We propose simple strategies based in finance theory that judges can employ to reduce the scope for valuation disagreements in Chapter 11. For example, we argue that courts should reject the use of company-specific risk premia in discount rates and be highly skeptical whenever experts weight some valuation methods more than others in calculating “average” estimated values.

The full article is available here.


The Effect of Creditor Rights on Capital Structure, Investment, Profitability, and Risk: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

By Aras Canipek (University of Konstanz), Axel Kind (University of Konstanz; University of Basel; University of St. Gallen), and Sabine Wende (University of Cologne)

Supply-side scholars have argued that laws which mandate managers to leave upon bankruptcy filing and which grant secured creditors strong power to quickly seize their collateralized assets lead to higher recovery rates, lower interest costs, and relaxed financial constraints, and that these consequences ultimately foster economic growth. In contrast, a more recent demand-side view raises the concern that borrowers can feel threatened by such liquidation-oriented regimes. Threatened borrowers may take (economically undesirable) actions to reduce the likelihood of having to bear high distress costs.

We find evidence in favor of the demand-side view by using Germany’s bankruptcy reform (ESUG) of 2012 and studying the causal effects of an exogenous downward shock to creditor rights on firms’ financial and investment policy. ESUG limited the rights of secured creditors by strongly facilitating firm continuation and allowing the manager to stay in unrestricted corporate control. In the study, we show that high-tangible-asset companies – which the reform predominantly affected – turned away from being overly risk-averse at the cost of profitability, relative to low-tangibility control firms. Specifically, weaker creditor rights motivated affected firms to increase financial leverage and to prefer the more flexible unsecured debt. Moreover, affected firms reduced unprofitable but risk-lowering expansions and sold off less profitable but easily-marketable assets that are useful in downturns by providing the liquidity that can prevent bankruptcy. Our results suggest that weaker creditor rights encourage firms to eliminate protection mechanisms formerly constructed to contract around liquidation-oriented bankruptcy provisions. This view is supported by the increased profitability and higher risk of treated firms after the reform.

The stronger pre-ESUG creditor rights not only produced ex post deadweight losses in terms of inefficient liquidation, but also discouraged firms to make profitable investment decisions. This reveals ex ante inefficiencies of creditor rights, an aspect largely ignored in the extant literature.

The article can be found here.

Beyond Common Equity: The Influence of Secondary Capital on Bank Insolvency Risk

By Thomas Conlon (University College Dublin), John Cotter (University College Dublin; UCLA Anderson School of Management); Philip Molyneux (University of Sharjah – College of Business Administration)

Prudential regulation requires banks to hold capital as a buffer in the event of losses and as a means to mitigate risk shifting by shareholders. Under capital regulation, a large menu of securities is permitted to contribute to regulatory capital. While previous studies have predominantly concentrated on the relationship between bank risks and narrow capital measures (such as tier 1 capital or equity capital), we further develop this work by looking at a broader menu of capital components. We examine bank insolvency risk (distance to default) for listed North American and European banks over the period from 2002 to 2014, with a focus on sensitivity to capital other than common equity. Decomposing tier 1 capital into equity and non-core components reveals a heretofore unidentified variation in risk reduction capacity. Greater non-core tier 1 capital is associated with increased insolvency risk for larger and more diversified banks, impairing the risk reducing capacity of aggregate tier 1 capital. Overall, tier 2 capital is not linked with insolvency risk, although a conflicting relationship is isolated conditional on the level of total regulatory capital held. Finally, the association between risk and capital is weakened when the latter is defined relative to risk-weighted assets.

The full article is available here.

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