By Dennis Hranitzky, Richard East, Liesl Fichardt, Epaminontas Triantafilou, Yasseen Gailani, and Rupert Goodway (Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP)
The article summarizes the likelihood and implications of a sovereign bond default by the Russian Federation. It first discusses the economic sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, their impact on Russia’s ability to access gold and foreign currency reserves and the consequences of sanctions on Russia’s ability to satisfy its obligations under the approximately $40 billion in UK law bonds. Noting that a payment default will likely lead to litigation arbitration, the article analyzes key provisions of the bonds, noting that atypical of sovereign bonds, they include no choice of law or venue provisions or waiver of sovereign immunity. The article explores anticipated litigation hurdles in both the US and the UK, with a focus on sovereign immunity and forum non conveniens defenses that may be available to Russia, including the particular difficulties that may be faced by litigants in enforcing a judgment from a US or UK court in the absence of a sovereign immunity waiver. The analysis of sovereign immunity necessarily includes consideration of the commercial activity exception and the article analyzes the US and UK interpretation of this exception. The availability of judgment enforcement discovery is also addressed, noting that broad written and sworn deposition discovery of both the debtor and third parties is the norm in the US and also potentially available in the UK. The article concludes with a recommendation that holders of Russian bonds organize themselves and seek advice on their options prior to the occurrence of a default.
By Francesca Prenestini (Bocconi University, Milan)
Most legal systems follow one of two rules for regulating the capacity of an issuer to renegotiate the terms of the bond loan to avoid insolvency or to accommodate changing capital needs. The first rule requires the individual consent of every bondholder while the second one permits the proposed agreement to be approved upon a majority decision which also binds dissenting bondholders.
This article analyzes the desirability of adopting a regulatory approach that allows a binding vote of bondholders on amendments of the core terms of the loan and other restructuring measures, including the conversion of bonds into shares. In doing so, this article examines the drawbacks of the prohibitive approach, which requires consent from all bondholders, with particular regard to the judicial cases and business practices of two major legal systems (the U.S. and Italy).
In the U.S., the Marblegate and Caesars cases have reignited the debate on out-of-bankruptcy restructurings of bond issues. In 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York reaffirmed that coercive exit consent transactions which force bondholders into questionable restructurings are prohibited by § 316(b) of the Trust Indenture Act of 1939 (“TIA”). Then, in January 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit adopted a narrower interpretation, holding that § 316(b) only prohibits formal non-consensual modifications of an indenture’s core payment terms.
The district court’s interpretation, though broad, is more coherent with the text, the legislative history, and the purpose of the TIA. Section 316(b) provides that the individual right of each bondholder to receive payment of the principal of and interest on their indenture security on the due dates cannot (with a few minor exceptions) be impaired without the bondholder’s consent. This section was enacted to protect bondholders from insider abuses by giving individual bondholders the power to veto proposed amendments in an out-of-court restructuring. However, this individual veto power often precludes even fair renegotiation agreements between the issuer and the bondholders.
Under Italian law, the meeting of bondholders may approve “amendments of the terms of the loan” by majority vote. Nevertheless, in the light of quite restrictive interpretations of such a rule, those modifications may not change the structural characteristics of the bond loan.
This article suggests that governments should adopt rules that allow a majority bondholders’ vote to accept out-of-bankruptcy restructurings of bond issues. Currently two different solutions may be implemented in the U.S. and Italy: in the U.S., until § 316(b) can be reformed, the Securities and Exchange Commission could exercise its power to grant exemptions to authorize transactions and agreements otherwise banned; and in Italy, in the absence of a statutory prohibition, the contract governing the loan could include a provision allowing the meeting of bondholders to vote upon amendments of the core terms of the loan and other restructuring measures, such as the conversion of bonds into shares.
This article first examines the two different approaches to bond loans restructuring in various legal systems and in the context of sovereign debt, and considers why allowing a binding vote of the bondholders in workouts is so important given the rationales for and against this rule. Then it focuses on the U.S. legal system, and discusses the statutory provision that bans the majority rule, how the jurisprudence and business practices have evolved, and recent proposals for reform. The article also considers the Italian system, its rules and business practices, and how to overcome its limits. In the end, this article suggests an alternative rule and proposes interim solutions to the problem while awaiting statutory reform.
Author: Carlos Berdejó, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Economic theory suggests that corporate law should enable parties to contract freely in order to promote their best interests, leading to socially optimal arrangements. This is particularly true for corporate bonds, which are governed by detailed indentures and held by large, sophisticated investors. However, the Trust Indenture Act, which for 75 years has regulated the terms of U.S. public corporate debt, contains numerous mandatory rules, including a prohibition on collective action clauses (CACs). A CAC allows a qualifying majority of bondholders to modify the interest rate, maturity and principal of an outstanding bond issue in a manner that binds all bondholders, including those who may prefer to hold-out to extract a larger payment. This longstanding prohibition limits the ability of firms to restructure their debt via private workouts and can exacerbate the costs of financial distress by unnecessarily forcing issuers into bankruptcy. Most countries other than the U.S. do not prohibit CACs and afford parties flexibility in choosing the qualifying majority that may amend the core terms of a bond issue.
My article, Revisiting the Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts, examines contracting choices in Brazil, Chile and Germany, countries that have recently enacted reforms affecting their bond markets, including changes in restrictions on CACs. I find that not only do market participants embrace increased flexibility with respect to CACs, but that interest rates decrease as a result, lowering the cost of capital for issuers.
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[Related Work Note: The work in Revisiting the Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts provides evidence relating to the argument made in Mark Roe, The Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts, 97 Yale L.J. 232 (1987), that the prohibition unwisely impeded out-of-bankruptcy recapitalizations and channeled some parties’ incentives towards coercive restructurings that would not have been needed if straight-forward votes were allowed. That article can be found here. More generally, academic bankruptcy theory has focused on the extent to which contract terms should be respected by law, inside and outside of bankruptcy. See Alan Schwartz, Bankruptcy Workouts and Debt Contracts, 36 J. of L. & Econ. 595 (1993), availablehere. –Stephen Adams, Editor]