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.
* * *
[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), available here. –Stephen Adams, Editor]