ISDA Resolution Stay Protocol: A Brief Overview

On November 12, 2014, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (“ISDA”) officially released the ISDA 2014 Resolution Stay Protocol (the “Protocol”), a mechanism that contractually imposes a stay on certain default rights in ISDA contracts between adhering parties during the resolution of a significantly important financial institution (SIFI) counterparty or one of its affiliates.

The first section of the Protocol—addressing default rights under Special Resolution Regimes (“SRRs”) (e.g., the U.S.’s OLA and FDIA)—is relatively uncontroversial. It merely ensures that adhering cross-border counterparties will be bound by the preexisting stay provisions of a foreign SRR, even if the jurisdictional limitations of the SRR would normally exempt such cross-border counterparties. This section went into affect for the 18 adhering banks on January 1, 2015.

The second section of the Protocol—addressing default rights under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code—has been met with significantly more contention. This section confines, to a limited extent, the use of currently existing “safe harbors” in the Code, by contractually limiting certain cross-default rights in ISDA contracts in the case of a counterparty’s affiliate’s bankruptcy, so that the affiliate is not also forced into bankruptcy, where close-out rights are safe-harbored. Significantly, this section will not go into effect until further regulations are promulgated by the Federal Reserve and other U.S. regulators. The concept behind the Protocol’s second section is that a failure of one part of a SIFI should not necessarily lead to defaults and close-outs of derivatives and repos sitting in affiliates of the SIFI, if the affiliate is still performing on its obligations.

The HLS Bankruptcy Roundtable has focused on the Code’s safe harbors previously. Click here for an analysis of the effect of the safe harbors on systemic risk; click here for an argument for narrowing the safe harbors for repos.

Congress is also currently considering the issue of the safe harbors in the case of a SIFI failure. Click here and here for previous coverage of currently pending legislation, the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act, which would impose a short stay on financial contracts in the case of a SIFI resolution under the Bankruptcy Code.

For a full discussion of the Protocol, please see Mayer Brown’s Legal Update, here.

(This post was drafted by Stephanie Massman, J.D. ’15.)

House Passes Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act

On December 1, 2014, the House of Representatives passed, with bipartisan support, H.R. 5421—the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act of 2014 (FIBA), a bill that would amend the Bankruptcy Code to better allow for the resolution of systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs). FIBA (previously discussed in Roundtable posts here and here) is similar in many respects to the bankruptcy amendments proposed in another bill introduced in the Senate (previously covered here) and to the “chapter 14” proposal from the Hoover Institution, but there are some key differences among these proposals.

First of all, the Senate version would entirely repeal the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA), the current regulatory receivership alternative to traditional bankruptcy (and to some, the only current viable option) to resolve failed SIFIs. Both FIBA and the Hoover Institution’s version, however, would keep the OLA in place as an alternative.

Additionally, each proposal takes a different approach to the issue of federal funding in a SIFI resolution, which is provided in an OLA resolution. The Hoover Institution’s version does not explicitly provide for such federal funding, but it does contemplate it and condition it upon a showing that no private funding is available. FIBA is silent on the matter, and the Senate version explicitly prohibits it.

Lastly, both FIBA and the Senate proposal solely focus on facilitating a single-point-of-entry (SPOE) resolution of a SIFI, whereas the Hoover Institution’s proposal seeks to accommodate both an SPOE recapitalization and a conventional reorganization of a SIFI. An SPOE recapitalization would make debt and equity at the financial holding company take the brunt of losses, while substantially all of the holding company’s assets would be transferred to a new bridge institution and cash would be pushed down into shaky subsidiaries to prevent their bankruptcy. A conventional reorganization (or liquidation) of a SIFI would largely track traditional bankruptcy approaches, with the troubled subsidiaries entering bankruptcy.

These and other differences among the proposals are some of the most debated aspects in the SIFI resolution reform discussion. Moreover, which version (if any) ultimately passes through both houses of Congress and is signed by President Obama may set significant precedent in resolution regimes worldwide.

For previous HLS Bankruptcy Roundtable coverage of the viability and limits of an SPOE approach in bankruptcy, click here and here.

This post was composed by Stephanie Massman (J.D. ’15)

Derivatives and Collateral: Balancing Remedies and Systemic Risk

By Steven L. Schwarcz, Duke University School of Law

schwarczProfessor Schwarcz examines whether the bankruptcy “safe harbor” for derivatives is necessary or even appropriate to protect against systemic risk—such protection being the safe harbor’s articulated justification. The article examines the most important function of the safe harbor: allowing derivatives counterparties to exercise their contractual enforcement remedies against a debtor or its property notwithstanding bankruptcy law’s stay of enforcement actions. A threshold question is whether there is anything inherently risky about derivatives that might cause a systemic failure.

The standard answer is volatility. But, the article observes, regulation could reduce that potential for systemic risk in a more limited fashion. The article next addresses the safe harbor from the standpoint of its impact on avoiding contagion. The safe harbor is supposed to enable large derivatives dealers to enforce their remedies against a failed counterparty, thereby minimizing the dealer’s losses and reducing its chance of collapse. There are, however, several flaws in the safe harbor’s design to accomplish that. First, the safe harbor incentivizes systemically risky market concentration by enabling dealers and other parties to virtually ignore counterparty risk. Second, the safe harbor operates independently of the size of the counterparty or its portfolio. The article then examines how the Lehman bankruptcy might inform the safe harbor debate. The article offers a final caution: To the extent the safe harbor might amplify, rather than protect against, systemic risk, its negative impact would transcend the traditional derivatives market.

The full version of this article is forthcoming from the University of Illinois Law Review and is available in draft form here.

House Advances Bipartisan Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act

By Stephen D. Adams, Editor, HLS Bankruptcy Roundtable

On September 10, 2014, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 5421, the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act of 2014, in a voice vote with bipartisan support. The bill would amend Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code by adding Subchapter V, targeting large financial institutions.  Subchapter V reflects the principles of the Single Point of Entry framework developed for the Orderly Liquidation Authority, which include the following: 1) an expedited involuntary commencement process that may be initiated by a regulator (in addition to a voluntary process), 2) a special transfer of estate property, including an assignment of executory contracts, leases, swaps and the like, to a new holding company, and 3) a brief but broad automatic stay on a wide variety of instruments in order to enable the special transfer.  As a result, the subsidiaries of the bank holding company are in and out of bankruptcy quickly, but the parent holding company remains.  To enable this special transfer, Subchapter V transfers may assign licenses, permits, and registrations, and are exempt from most avoiding powers.  In addition, the prospective statute empowers judges to consider the effects of their decisions on financial stability, a power strengthened by authorization of the Federal Reserve, the SEC, the OCC, and the FDIC (but not the CFTC, it seems), to be heard on any issue in the case or proceeding.  Finally, the bill would create a special category of judges who would handle these cases.

The approval statement of the House Judiciary Committee is here.  The text of the bill can be found here, and you may track the bill’s progress here.  Previously, the Roundtable covered a draft of the bill in the Senate in connection with Bruce Grohsgal’s discussion of the limits of the proposal, then called Chapter 14.  David Skeel’s post today provides a comparison of an earlier (though substantially similar) proposal with the Single Point of Entry plan for the OLA.

Single Point of Entry and the Bankruptcy Alternative

Author: David A. Skeel, Jr., University of Pennsylvania Law School

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The Dodd-Frank Act requires systemically important financial institutions to prepare living wills explaining how they could be smoothly resolved in bankruptcy.  Yet Dodd-Frank itself did not do anything to ensure that the bankruptcy laws actually are adequate to the task of handling a major financial institution.  Earlier this month, the House Judiciary committee unanimously approved proposed legislation (known colloquially as “Subchapter V”) that is designed to finish the job.  Subchapter V would mimic the single point of entry strategy that the FDIC has devised for resolution under the Dodd-Frank Act by facilitating a quick sale of the assets and some of the liabilities of the financial institution’s holding company in bankruptcy.

In this Essay (which pre-dates Subchapter V), I consider the risks and benefits of single of entry and the bankruptcy alternative.  The Essay begins with a brief overview of concerns raised by the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, and points out that the Dodd-Frank Act as enacted left nearly all of them unaddressed.   By contrast, the FDIC’s new single point of entry strategy, which is introduced in the second section, can be seen as addressing nearly all of them.  The third and fourth sections point out some of the limitations of single point of entry, first by highlighting potential pitfalls and distortions and then by explaining that single point of entry does not end the too-big-to-fail problem and would not reduce worrisome concentration in the financial services industry.  The final section turns to bankruptcy, and shows that the single-entry-style strategy can easily be replicated in bankruptcy.  Indeed, the strategy harkens back to the original procedure used to reorganize American railroads well over a century ago.

The full version of the article can be found here.

Rolling Back the Repo Safe Harbors

Authors: Edward R. Morrison, Mark J. Roe, and Hon. Christopher S. Sontchi

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Recent decades have seen substantial expansion in exemptions from the Bankruptcy Code’s normal operation for repurchase agreements. These repos, which are equivalent to very short-term (often one-day) secured loans, are exempt from core bankruptcy rules such as the automatic stay that enjoins debt collection, rules against prebankruptcy fraudulent transfers, and rules against eve-of-bankruptcy preferential payment to some creditors over other creditors. While these exemptions can be justified for United States Treasury securities and similarly liquid obligations backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government, they are not justified for mortgage-backed securities and other securities that could prove illiquid or unable to fetch their expected long-run value in a panic. The exemptions from baseline bankruptcy rules facilitate this kind of panic selling and, according to many expert observers, characterized and exacerbated the financial crisis of 2007–2009, leading to a bailout of the repo market and the institutions supporting mortgage-backed securities. The exemptions from normal bankruptcy rules should be limited to United States Treasury and similarly liquid securities, as they once were. The more recent expansion of the exemption to mortgage-backed securities should be reversed.

This article is forthcoming in The Business Lawyer, and a draft is available here.

The Case in Brief Against Chapter 14

Author: Bruce Grohsgal, Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones, LLP

Grohsgal-BruceResolution of a distressed financial company under Dodd-Frank Title II is a last – but crucial – resort.  Dodd-Frank, Title I, requires each large financial enterprise to file a “living will” that provides for its orderly resolution under the Bankruptcy Code.  Dodd-Frank Title II may only be used to liquidate a failing financial company that would “pose a significant risk to the financial stability of the United States” if resolved in a bankruptcy proceeding or under other federal or state law.  The FDIC must conduct a Title II resolution “in a manner that mitigates such risk and minimizes moral hazard.”  Dodd-Frank also expressly prohibits both a taxpayer-funded bailout and the Federal Reserve’s lending to a failing or failed financial firm.

Dodd-Frank has drawn fire, nonetheless, as encouraging, rather than preventing, bailouts.  Detractors urge repealing Title II of Dodd-Frank and amending the Bankruptcy Code to include a new Chapter 14 in its place.

The proposed Chapter 14’s central flaw is that it does nothing to reconcile Dodd-Frank’s purposes of mitigating systemic risk and minimizing moral hazard with the Bankruptcy Code’s starkly contrasting aims of reorganizing troubled companies, preserving going concerns and maximizing payments to creditors.

This article briefly summarizes Dodd-Frank’s orderly resolution regime and then addresses some of the core proposals for a new Chapter 14.  It concludes that the proposed Chapter 14 will not mitigate systemic risk, minimize moral hazard, or improve on Dodd-Frank’s prohibitions against bailouts, which are the primary purposes of Title II of Dodd-Frank.

The article is available here.

The Chapter 14 Proposal in the Senate

Author: Stephen D. Adams*

[This week the Roundtable looks at the Chapter 14 proposal in the Senate.  This post provides an overview of Chapter 14 as background to Bruce Grohsgal’s thoughtful piece from the ABI Journal available here.]

The Taxpayer Protection and Responsible Resolution Act of 2014 (S. 1861), commonly known as “Chapter 14”, aims to “end ‘too big to fail’ by repealing Dodd-Frank’s Title II” and “replacing it with a bankruptcy process” capable of safely resolving a Systemically Important Financial Institution.

The Chapter 14 proposal envisions a number of changes to the bankruptcy process, grouped into a new bankruptcy chapter (hence “Chapter 14”, a previously unused chapter) that would be available to bank holding companies. Chapter 14 would be run by a special group of financially experienced district judges, could allow for the FDIC to be appointed as trustee, and would have no period of plan exclusivity. In order to effect a quick sale similar to the FDIC’s single point of entry strategy for Title II, the Senate bill would add a two-day stay to bankruptcy’s swap safe harbors to give the trustee a chance to transfer the entire swap portfolio to a new company that is solvent. Repos, however, are treated like secured debt, but with the ability to immediately sell off high quality collateral (though not non-agency Mortgage-Backed Securities).

The Senate Bill draws on work from the Hoover Institution’s Resolution Project that proposed the original Chapter 14 in 2009 and 2010 and updated it recently.

Documents related to the original Chapter 14 proposal work, including proponents’ descriptions of the case for a new Chapter 14, can be found here. The text of S. 1861 can be found here. Professor Thomas Jackson’s Congressional testimony about Chapter 14 in 2014 can be found here.

*Editor, Harvard Law School Bankruptcy Roundtable, and Research Director, Harvard Law School Bankruptcy and Corporate Restructuring Project.

Another Court of Appeals Broadly Reads Settlement Payment Safe Harbor

By Michael L. Cook, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

The Courts of Appeals, with few exceptions, have broadly read the safe harbor defense contained in Bankruptcy Code §546(e) over the past 24 years.  It insulates a “settlement payment” or “margin payment” on a “securities contract,” “commodity contract” or “forward contract” from a trustee’s fraudulent transfer or preference claims unless the debtor makes the payment with “actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud creditors.”  Despite policy arguments by lower courts, trustees, creditors and commentators, the appellate courts have claimed to rely on the Code’s “plain language” to deny recovery.  In this Article, we discuss a recent Seventh Circuit decision that (a) reversed a district court’s “policy” decision purporting to divine Congress’s intent as to the proper application of the safe harbor provision; (b) rejected decisions by the Fifth and Ninth Circuits that refused to apply the safe harbor in the context of a Ponzi scheme; and (c) followed recent decisions of the Second and Fourth Circuits.

We discuss the Seventh Circuit’s close reading and application of the statutory language, “clearly and predictably using well established principles of statutory construction.”  Citing Supreme Court precedent, the court refused to rely on legislative history that was “neither passed by a majority of either House nor signed into law.”  Instead, the court explained why the safe harbor in the case before it yielded a sensible result, avoiding instability and uncertainty in the securities business.

We also review recent conflicting decisions in the lower courts that have resulted from imaginative attempts by lawyers to avoid application of the safe harbor defense.  Finally, we discuss another case pending in the Second Circuit that pushes the safe harbor defense to its outer limits.  That case asks (a) whether an intermediary is required in a safe harbor case, and (b) whether the defendant must show an adverse effect on financial markets.

Schulte Roth & Zabel Client Alert, April 3, 2014:  http://www.srz.com/Seventh_Circuit_Reads_Bankruptcy_Safe_Harbor_Broadly_to_Insulate_Preferential_Settlement_Payment_to_Commodity_Broker/

Practitioners, Academics, and a Judge Testify about Safe Harbors before Congress

Author: Stephen D. Adams

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law has held two sets of hearings in recent months on the bankruptcy safe harbors for repos and derivatives from the automatic stay, from preference and fraudulent conveyance law, and from the limitations on ipso facto clauses.

This past Wednesday, March 26, Judge Christopher Sontchi, Seth Grosshandler, Jane Vris, Thomas Jackson, and Michelle Harner testified. Last December, Jeffrey Lacker, Donald Bernstein, and Mark Roe testified.

Judge Sontchi argued that the 546(e)’s exception for all settlement transactions is too broad and also urged Congress to narrow the safe harbors for repos. Seth Grosshandler, of Cleary Gottlieb, reported on the work of the ABI safe harbors advisory committee (which includes both Judge Sontchi and Prof. Roe) and warned that the safe harbors are complex and potentially costly to alter.  Jane Vris, representing the National Bankruptcy Conference (NBC), and Thomas Jackson, professor at the University of Rochester, testified on bankruptcy of SIFIs as an alternative to Dodd Frank resolution of bail-out.  Michelle Harner, professor at University of Maryland School of Law, testified in her role as the Reporter to the ABI Commission on Bankruptcy Reform about the Commission.

Mark Roe, professor at Harvard Law School, testified that the safe harbors facilitate excessive short-term funding of financial institutions and impede effective resolution of large financial failures, like that of Lehman in 2008.  Donald Bernstein, of Davis Polk, a member of the ABI bankruptcy commission, testified about the bankruptcy adjustments needed to adapt bankruptcy law to the FDIC’s Single Point of Entry resolution mechanisms.  Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, testified about the importance of bankruptcy reform to reduce the problem of too-big-to-fail and reduce reliance on short-term debt.

The written testimonies are linked above, and the video of the oral testimonies for the March 26th hearing will be found here once it has been posted, and is here for the December 3rd hearing.

For more on the bankruptcy safe harbors for derivatives and repurchase agreements, please see the post by Steven L. Schwarcz and Ori Sharon summarizing their recent paper, The Bankruptcy-Law Safe Harbor for Derivatives: A Path-Dependence Analysis, and the post by Kathryn Borgeson, Mark Ellenberg, Lary Stromfeld, and John Thompson, entitled Lehman Bankruptcy Court Issues Safe Harbor Decision, summarizing a recent Lehman case decision on the safe harbors, both published Tuesday.

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