Three Ages of Bankruptcy

posted in: Workouts and Pre-Packs | 0

By Mark J. Roe (Harvard Law School)

During the past century, three decisionmaking systems have arisen to accomplish a bankruptcy restructuring — judicial administration, a deal among the firm’s dominant players, and a sale of the firm’s operations in their entirety. Each is embedded in the Bankruptcy Code today, with all having been in play for more than a century and with each having had its heyday — its dominant age. The shifts, rises, and falls among decisionmaking systems have previously been explained by successful evolution in bankruptcy thinking, by the happenstance of the interests and views of lawyers that designed bankruptcy changes, and by the interests of those who influenced decisionmakers. Here I argue that these broad changes also stem from baseline market capacities, which shifted greatly over the past century; I build the case for shifts underlying market conditions being a major explanation for the shifts in decisionmaking modes. Keeping these three alternative decisionmaking types clearly in mind not only leads to better understanding of what bankruptcy can and cannot do, but also facilitates stronger policy decisions today here and in the world’s differing bankruptcy systems, as some tasks are best left to the market, others are best handled by the courts, and still others can be left to the inside parties to resolve.

The full article is available here.

Bankruptcy and the U.S. Supreme Court

By Ronald J. Mann (Columbia Law School)

The continuing struggle of the United States to emerge from the Great Recession gives policy responses to financial distress an immediacy they have lacked for 75 years. The Constitution directly grants Congress a broadly worded Bankruptcy Power, which Congress exercised with vigor in its 1978 enactment of the Bankruptcy Code. But the Code has played little or no role in mitigating the dislocation of the Great Recession. The slight rise in filings under the Code during the early years of financial distress contrasts markedly with the unprecedented rise in foreclosures, to say nothing of the more general social and economic turmoil of the last decade.

My forthcoming book, Bankruptcy and the U.S. Supreme Court, considers the role that the Supreme Court has played in the relatively anemic bankruptcy regime of the 21st century. The book’s main point is that the Supreme Court’s 82 decisions evaluating the Code systematically have taken a narrow interpretive approach that has left the Code much less effective than it might have been. The book includes some quantitative analysis. It is interesting, for example, that only 32 of the 82 decisions (39%) have come down in favor of a broad application of the Code. If you look at close cases (those with three or more dissenting votes), the results are even more stark, with only 5 of the 19 decisions (26%) applying the Code expansively.

But the bulk of the book is a series of case studies of nine of the close cases in the early days of the Code. Because the case studies focus much more on the process of the Court’s decision making than on the doctrinal results, they rely heavily on the internal papers of the Justices. Probably the single most important thing that the case studies demonstrate is the Justices’ attention to these cases. Many readers doubtless think of the bankruptcy cases as the “dogs” that the Justices turn to only after they’ve devoted their attention to the exciting constitutional and civil rights cases. But what you find when you go back to look the Justices’ papers is a great deal of back and forth in the crafting of opinions. In one case (Midlantic v. New Jersey Dep’t of Environmental Protection), Justice Powell’s majority opinion originally was crafted as a dissent; it became a majority when Justice Stevens switched his vote. Similarly, in Bildisco v. NLRB, Justice Rehnquist managed to get a court for his opinion only after months of negotiation that eventually led to the removal and rewriting of a large portion of the original opinion.

If you want to know more about how the Court goes about deciding these cases, then I encourage you to look at the book when it comes out from Cambridge University Press this spring.

Bankruptcy’s Endowment Effect

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Anthony J. Casey (University of Chicago Law School)

The notion of endowments and entitlements has a powerful effect on corporate bankruptcy policy. Scholars and lawyers generally assume a creditor endowed with a right outside the bankruptcy system must receive the equivalent of that right when its debtor is within the bankruptcy system. Proponents of this idea often assert that the result is required by the foundational theory of bankruptcy.

In a forthcoming essay, “Bankruptcy’s Endowment Effect,” I demonstrate that this is false. The idea of sacred creditor endowments is an untenable position that misunderstands the fundamental principles of bankruptcy. Corporate bankruptcy is, at its core, a system that alters nonbankruptcy endowments according to a hypothetical bargain that all creditors of a firm would have entered if bargaining were costless. The entire point of that hypothetical bargain is to suspend and alter some nonbankruptcy endowments to maximize the value of the bankruptcy estate and the firm as a whole. Indeed, if every stakeholder retained all of its nonbankruptcy endowments, the Bankruptcy Code would have no provisions at all.

Of course, altering nonbankruptcy endowments can impose costs. Foremost among those costs is the risk of opportunistic behavior that is costly for the estate as a whole. Bankruptcy policy will, therefore, be designed to maximize estate value while minimizing opportunistic bankruptcy behavior. Thus, the guiding principle for optimal bankruptcy design should be not the preservation of nonbankruptcy rights but rather the minimization of opportunistic behavior that reduces the net value of a firm.

With that principle in hand, we can resolve many difficult questions of bankruptcy policy. In the essay, I focus on applying the principle to the debate over what interest rate a senior creditor should get in a chapter 11 cramdown. In particular, I analyze the dispute in In re MPM Silicones, LLC (“Momentive”), where the bankruptcy court mistakenly reached its final decision by importing a creditor-endowment framework from consumer bankruptcy law (where the framework might make more sense). I show that an optimal rule for corporate bankruptcy supports a cramdown interest rate based on the prevailing market rates for similar loans, which reduces the risk of opportunistic behavior by both debtor and creditor.

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.

Priority Matters

posted in: Cramdown and Priority | 0

By Douglas G. Baird, University of Chicago Law School

Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code is organized around the absolute priority rule. This rule mandates the rank-ordering of claims. If one creditor has priority over another, this creditor must be paid in full before the junior creditor receives anything. Many have suggested various modifications to the absolute priority rule. The reasons vary and range from ensuring proper incentives to protecting nonadjusting creditors. The rule itself, however, remains the common starting place.

This paper uses relative priority, an entirely different priority system that flourished until the late 1930s, to show that using absolute priority even as a point of departure is suspect when firms are being reorganized. The essential difference between absolute and relative priority is the effect of bankruptcy on the exercise date of the call-option component of the junior investment instrument. Under absolute priority, the bankruptcy accelerates the exercise date; a regime of relative priority leaves it untouched.

Absolute priority is naturally suited for regimes in which the financially distressed firm is sold to the highest bidder. It is much less appropriate for a regime that puts a new capital structure in place without a market sale. In the absence of an actual sale, absolute priority requires some nonmarket valuation procedure. Such a valuation is costly and prone to error.

Chapter 11 attempts to minimize these costs by inducing the parties to bargain in the shadow of a judicial valuation, but rules are needed to police the strategic behavior that arises from the ability of parties to exploit information they have, but the judge does not.

Once one decides in favor of a reorganization rather than a market sale, the commitment to absolute priority is suspect. Instead of trying to find a bankruptcy mechanism that best vindicates the absolute priority rule, one is likely better off trying to identify the priority rule that minimizes the costs of bankruptcy itself. Asking which priority rule is most likely to lead to a successful plan at reasonable cost is a better point of departure than a debate over which priority rule provides the best set of ex ante incentives.

Looking at Chapter 11 from this perspective shows that much of the complexity and virtually all of the stress points of modern Chapter 11 arise from the uneasy fit between its priority regime (absolute instead of relative) and its procedure (negotiation in the shadow of a judicial valuation instead of a market sale). These forces are leading to the emergence of a hybrid system of priority that may be more efficient than one centered around absolute priority.

Read the full article here (forthcoming 165 U. Pa. L. Rev.).

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