Contracting for a European Insolvency Regime

By Horst Eidenmueller (Oxford University)

The European Commission has proposed a directive on “preventive restructuring frameworks” for financially distressed firms. If adopted, the directive would force the Member States of the European Union (“EU”) to design restructuring proceedings that conform to the directive’s stipulations.

In a recent paper, I demonstrate that the proposal is flawed because it creates a refuge for failing firms that should be liquidated, because it rules out going-concern sales for viable firms, and because it is, in essence, a twisted and truncated insolvency proceeding. I also demonstrate that the Commission’s harmonization plan is misguided. If implemented, financing costs for firms would rise. The plan would cast in stone an inefficient restructuring framework on a European-wide scale, preventing member states from experimenting with more efficient procedures.

I suggest an alternative regulatory proposal: European firms should have the option to choose a “European Insolvency Regime” in their charter. This regime should be embodied in a European regulation, guaranteeing legal certainty to stakeholders. This proposal would preserve horizontal regulatory competition between the Member States for the best “insolvency product,” and it would introduce vertical regulatory competition between the member states and the EU in the field of insolvency law. Hence, my proposal would strengthen market testing of European insolvency regimes instead of eliminating creative discovery processes through a flawed harmonized framework.

Key design principles of the proposed optional “European Insolvency Regime” are the following: (i) it should be open for restructurings, going concern sales, and liquidations, and firms should be channelled into the appropriate process based on the opinion of a court-appointed supervisor; (ii) it should be a fully specified (complete) and fully collective insolvency proceeding; and (iii) the proceeding should be conducted in DIP form with the mandatory appointment of a supervisor who performs important insolvency-related functions.

The full paper is available here.

The Future of UK Debt Restructuring

By Jennifer Payne (University of Oxford – Faculty of Law)

In the UK, a number of different mechanisms exist which can be used to restructure the debt of viable but financially distressed companies. This paper assesses the debt restructuring mechanisms currently available to companies in English law and considers whether reform is needed. In particular, the paper analyses the reform proposals put forward by the UK Insolvency Service in July 2016, which recommended: (i) the introduction of an option to cramdown whole classes of creditors using a single restructuring mechanism (something which can only be accessed at present using a scheme of arrangement combined with administration); (ii) the introduction of a restructuring moratorium akin to that which is attached to administration at present, together with a new ability for companies to prevent creditors with “essential contracts” from terminating them on the basis of insolvency alone; and (iii) the introduction of provisions designed to facilitate debtor-in-possession financing, something notably absent from the current UK regime. These reforms will need to be introduced with skill and care in order to ensure that the potential benefit they can bring to financially distressed businesses is balanced appropriately with the constraints that they impose on existing creditors’ rights. The aim of the Insolvency Service’s proposals is laudable, and it is argued that reform of the UK regime is needed. In particular, the introduction of a restructuring moratorium and a cramdown facility would be beneficial. Making these changes would provide English law with a stronger and more effective debt restructuring procedure. Furthermore, such changes are required if the UK wants to remain competitive in a global market.

The full article is available here.

The Sun Is Setting: Is It Time to Legislate Pre-Packs?

By John Wood (Lancashire Law School, University of Central Lancashire)

In the UK, pre-packaged administrations (“pre-packs”), while few in number, receive widespread attention due to the controversial outcomes that they often produce. The pre-pack process seems to have gained much exposure in recent years, but it is by no means a new concept. The negative reputation that pre-packs have resides with the lack of transparency that surrounds the process, in addition to connected parties purchasing the old company. Such an outcome leaves many creditors frustrated with both the lack of information received and the diminutive monies recovered for what they are owed.

Due to the sustained criticism of pre-packs, the British government reviewed the process to detect weaknesses in the UK’s company law framework and to ensure that the UK remained a competitive and attractive place to conduct business. This led to the Graham Review (“Review”), which made six recommendations that have since become somewhat essential to the survival of pre-packs as a non-legislative procedure. Ministerial pronouncements have put the profession on notice that, unless they take proper steps to produce substantial compliance with the Review’s findings, then legislative power will be exercised. While no further action has been taken, the Review appears to have attracted widespread support. The Review proposes non-legislative action, but the article examines whether, over time, legislation will become inevitable. What is therefore required is a balanced evaluation and critique of the Graham proposals—one that is capable of providing some form of yardstick against which to test the quality of any legislative initiatives which may be taken in the future.

The full article, published in 67 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 173 (2016), is available here.

The Dubai World Tribunal and the Global Insolvency Crisis

By Jayanth Krishnan (Indiana—Bloomington)

In 2009, as markets from the United States to Europe to the Global South shook, one country—the United Arab Emirates—found itself on the brink of economic collapse.  The U.A.E’s Emirate of Dubai was contemplating defaulting on $60 billion of debt it had amassed.  Recognizing that such a default would have cataclysmic reverberations across the globe, the government of Dubai turned to a small group of foreign consultants for assistance.  The resulting legal experiment demonstrates how aspects of American corporate bankruptcy law can be imported into and prove useful in the context of a foreign legal tradition. During the crisis, insolvency lawyers from the U.S. law firm of Latham & Watkins, analysts from the New York-based investment bank Moelis, and accountants from PwC – together with local domestic counterparts and experts from the U.K.– devised a highly sophisticated plan that helped the Emirate address the economic crisis in which it found itself.  As part of this plan, Chapter 11 and Chapter 15 principles from the U.S. Bankruptcy code, the 2/3 cram down technique on hold-out creditors, and an Anglo-American insolvency tribunal were introduced into Dubai in order to bring about economic stability and handle the highly complex cases that arose during the financial crisis. By respecting and interpreting U.A.E. law, the tribunal has maintained its legitimacy in the eyes of the Dubai government even as it has drawn on Anglo-American insolvency concepts.

On December 13, this study will be formally presented at a public event in Dubai by Indiana-Bloomington’s Center on the Global Legal Profession, where insolvency experts and policymakers from the U.S., Dubai, and the U.K. will be present.

The full article can be found here.

Restructuring Sovereign Debt after NML v. Argentina

By Lee C. Buchheit (Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton) and Mitu Gulati (Duke University School of Law)

 

The decade and a half of litigation that followed Argentina’s sovereign bond default in 2001 ended with a great disturbance in the Force. A new creditor weapon had been uncloaked: The prospect of a court injunction requiring the sovereign borrower to pay those creditors that decline to participate in a debt restructuring ratably with any payments made to those creditors that do provide the country with debt relief. For the first time holdouts succeeded in fashioning a weapon that could be used to injure their erstwhile fellow bondholders, not just the sovereign issuer. Is the availability of this new weapon limited to the aggravated facts of the Argentine default or has it now moved permanently into the creditors’ arsenal? Only time (and future judicial decisions) will tell. In the meantime, however, sovereigns will occasionally find themselves in financial distress and their debts will occasionally need to be restructured. Venezuela already casts this chilly shadow over the sovereign debt market. If, in a galaxy not too far away, sovereign debt workouts are to have any chance of an orderly completion, a method must be found to neutralize this new weapon.  Judging by the secondary market prices of different series of Venezuelan sovereign bonds, large amounts of money are being wagered that this cannot be done.

Argentina’s holdouts argued that they must be paid in full if Argentina wanted to make any payments to the creditors that accepted the country’s restructuring offers in 2005 and 2010. Those creditors had accepted a roughly 75 percent haircut in the value of their claims. But the holdouts were not offering to share with those old creditors any portion of a preferential recovery that the holdouts might be able to extract from Argentina. Why? Because the bonds that had been tendered in the restructurings of 2005 and 2010 had been canceled. The clause in those instruments that the holdouts now pointed to as the basis for their demand for a “ratable” payment whenever Argentina made a payment to its restructured lenders had been extinguished in the bonds previously held by those old lenders. So no contractual basis existed for the old creditors to assert a reciprocal claim against the holdouts.

It didn’t have to be this way. A future workout of New York law-governed sovereign bonds could be structured so that any bonds tendered by participating creditors are kept alive in a kind of deep freeze, available to assert a reciprocal claim against any holdouts who subsequently extract a preferential recovery from the sovereign issuer. The sauce that is flavorful for the goose thus becomes an equally suitable condiment for the gander.

The full article may be found here.

When Do Laws and Institutions Affect Recovery Rates on Collateral?

By Hans Degryse, Vasso Ioannidou, Jose Maria Liberti, and Jason Sturgess

The effect of bankruptcy laws and institutions governing enforcement on firm borrowing, investment, and growth has been studied extensively in the economics and finance literature using mainly country-level data. Due to the lack of micro-level data, the same literature has been silent on the underlying economic channels through which weak laws and institutions affect debt contracting.

In order to fill this gap, we study how laws and legal institutions that shift bargaining power between creditors and debtors in the event of default affect expected recovery rates on assets pledged as collateral in secured lending transactions. In particular, we study empirically the determinants of expected recovery rates on different types of collateral using a detailed loan-level dataset of secured loans made by a single bank across emerging market countries. We are able to pin-point the actual mechanism through which better law and stronger enforcement of secured loans can translate into lending: the effect of creditor rights and asset types on the bank’s expected recovery rates.  Our results suggest collateral that is movable (machinery, equipment, inventory, and accounts receivable), more asset specific, more susceptible to agency concerns, or faster to depreciate exhibits lower expected recovery rates since they are more vulnerable to laws and institutions.

For the full article, please click here.

S.D.N.Y. Holds that Avoidance Powers Can be Applied Extraterritorially

By Fredric Sosnick, Douglas P. Bartner, Joel Moss, Solomon J. Noh and Ned S. Schodek of Shearman & Sterling LLP

On January 4, 2016, in one of the recent decisions In re Lyondell Chemical Company, et al., the U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York deviated from S.D.N.Y. precedent and held that, despite the absence of clear Congressional intent, the avoidance powers provided for under Section 548 of the Bankruptcy Code can be applied extraterritorially. As a result, a fraudulent transfer of property of a debtor’s estate that occurs outside of the United States can be recovered under Sec. 550 of the Bankruptcy Code.

The lack of clear Congressional intent that avoidance powers apply to foreign transactions was the basis for prior decisions in the S. D. N. Y., which took the opposite view and held that the avoidance powers only apply domestically.  Those courts reasoned that if Congress intended for the avoidance powers to have extraterritorial reach, it could have so stated either the relevant statutory provisions governing avoidance actions under the Bankruptcy Code or in Sec. 541 itself.  In the current decision In re Lyondell, judge Gerber expressed his respectful disagreement to the extent that his decision is inconsistent with prior decisions recognizing the general presumption against extraterritoriality absent explicit language to the contrary. This ruling furthers uncertainty in the S. D. N. Y. as to whether transfers that occur abroad may be avoided in a Chapter 7 or 11 case.

The full memo is available here.

Restructuring the European Business Enterprise: The EU Commission Recommendation on a New Approach to Business Failure and Insolvency

By Horst Eidenmueller and Kristin van Zwieten, University of Oxford

In 2014, the European Commission issued a recommendation on the design of restructuring laws in EU Member States (the “Restructuring Recommendation,” or RR). It was followed in 2015 by the enactment of a recast version of the European Insolvency Regulation (EIR). These initiatives were intended to be complementary: the former was designed to improve the procedures available under national law for the restructuring of business debtor liabilities; the latter to improve the efficacy of these procedures in cross-border cases. Both initiatives have been driven by the view that the existing legal infrastructure for (cross-border) business restructurings in Europe is inadequate.

In this paper, we critically review the RR and put it into the context of the reform of the EIR. We find that although the two initiatives were intended to be complementary, they do not dovetail perfectly: procedures of the kind contemplated in the RR will not necessarily be eligible to fall within the scope of the recast EIR, so as to benefit from its rules on recognition and enforcement in cross-border cases.

In relation to the RR, we find that the Commission is right to push towards some level of harmonisation in Member States’ restructuring laws – regulatory competition is not a sensible regulatory alternative. However, we criticise both the methodology and scope of the RR, which leaves significant room for residual diversity in Member States’ laws, and ignores the complicated interaction between Member States’ existing insolvency laws and the restructuring procedures contemplated by the Commission.

We also take issue with some of the substantive recommendations made for the design of such procedures, arguing that the Commission wrongly requires evidence of financial difficulties or a likelihood of insolvency as the entry test, and that the process it contemplates is susceptible to abuse by sophisticated financial creditors at the expense of outside creditors and/or the debtor. We propose an efficient debtor-in-possession (DIP) regime as an alternative that could be initiated regardless of a firm’s solvency provided that it is economically viable and that the filing is not abusive.

For the full article see here.

A Constitutional Review of the Draft ‘Macron’ Law Introducing Shareholder Eviction under French Law: The Revolution that Didn’t Happen

By Sophie Vermeille, Jérémy Martinez & Frank-Adrien Papon

In a politically controversial attempt to modernize the French economy, French Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron had passed a sweeping law earlier this year, reforming many areas of French business law, including bankruptcy law.  For the first time under French law shareholder removal from decisionmaking will be available for decisions affecting the future of a distressed company.  This law is a step in the right direction to force shareholders to absorb the company’s losses and allow new shareholders to invest fresh money.

Unfortunately, the French government failed to use modern, world-class economic standards to govern a shareholder removal under the new law.  First, by retaining an antiquated trigger of liquidity crisis instead of actual insolvency, the law fails to consider the enterprise value of the company as the proper economic basis to recognize that shares have become worthless, an essential element to provide legitimacy for their removal.   Second, by requiring that a judge justify their removal by finding a “public necessity” to avoid a risk of “serious loss to the economy”, the law offers a weak constitutional safeguard for property rights, a loosely defined public interest standard, and little guidance for a judge to avoid arbitrary decisions and political pressure. This lack of economic and conceptual basis has unfortunately transformed a genuinely potentially useful attempt to reform French law into an inadequate and possibly even unconstitutional new law.

To read the full article see here.

Chapter 15 Recognition in the United States: Is a Debtor “Presence” Required?

By Daniel M. Glosband, Goodwin Procter LLP, and Jay Lawrence Westbrook, The University of Texas School of Law

Glosband_M_Daniel WestbrookIn a recent case, In re Barnet, 737 F. 3d 238 (2d Cir. 2013), the Court held that section 109(a) of the Bankruptcy Code bars a foreign bankruptcy proceeding from recognition under Chapter 15 unless the debtor in the foreign proceeding also has a presence in the United States. The Court professed to use a plain meaning rule, but its plain meaning approach and its conclusion that section 109(a) applied to recognition were inappropriate for several reasons:

1) since the term “debtor”  is defined differently in Chapter 15 than in section 101(13), it cannot have a “plain” meaning for Chapter 15 purposes;

2) while it is plain that section 103(a) applies Chapter 1 to Chapter 15, the way in which section 109(a) functions in relation to Chapter 15 is not straightforward and requires a structural analysis that the Court sidestepped;  and

3) the Congressional mandate in section 1508—which requires that, in interpreting Chapter 15, courts shall consider its international origin and the need to promote an application that is consistent with the needs of international insolvency practice—requires flexibility, not rigid literalism.

Section 109(a) should not apply to recognition of a foreign proceeding. The Barnet decision represents a stubborn adherence to literal statutory interpretation when the statutory provisions at issue prima facie were not susceptible to literal interpretation and when Congress instructed courts to look beyond the statute for guidance in harmonizing Chapter 15 with the Model Law.

This is a brief summary of a much longer article forthcoming in the International Insolvency Review. For the full article see here. Copyright © 2015 INSOL International and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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