Corporate Bankruptcy Tourists

By Oscar Couwenberg & Stephen J. Lubben

Insolvency procedures are not designed for corporate group, but for individual debtor corporations. This becomes an especially important issue when corporations have international operations.

When such a corporate group becomes financially distressed, then different national insolvency procedures will claim jurisdiction over assets and debts of the corporation, the consequence of which is an uncoordinated wealth-destroying piecemeal sale of assets. The obvious solution is to look for a single forum that can address an entire firm’s financial distress.

In this paper we argue that chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, and to a lesser extent also the UK scheme of arrangement under the Companies Act 2006, can be considered such bankruptcy havens for corporate bankruptcy tourists.

We construct a database of foreign debtors initiating a chapter 11 case over the period 2005 to 2012. In total our dataset includes 316 corporate debtors, organized in 49 corporate groups.

What we find is that corporations with mobile assets, with subsidiaries in many jurisdictions, or both, are the most frequent tourists in chapter 11. We further discuss why chapter 11 and its competitor in the UK render a trans-national insolvency system superfluous. We expect these two jurisdictions to see increasing amounts of “tourist” activity as Europe moves from its traditional reliance on bank financing to more frequent use of North American style high yield bond markets.

The full version of this article is available here.

Essential Corporate Bankruptcy Law

Authors:  Oscar Couwenberg & Stephen J. Lubben

In every economy, the question of what to do with financially distressed businesses is a matter of concern.   The United States has a long history of corporate restructuring law, starting with the reorganization of railroads in the nineteenth century and continuing through chapter 11 in its current form.   This naturally leads to a tendency to adopt chapter 11, or something like it.

But why?  In particular, chapter 11 is a rather ornate system of corporate reorganization, and it has been adorned with elements that reflect little more than particular creditors’ ability to lobby Congress.

We reexamine chapter 11 to understand its core.  In short, what, if any, are the essential elements of corporate bankruptcy law?

We point to two facets of chapter 11:  asset stabilization and asset separation.  These two aspects of chapter 11 could not be established other than by statute, and jurisdictions looking to reform their corporate bankruptcy processes should focus there.

Asset stabilization is the ability to temporarily protect assets as a coherent whole.  It includes obvious things like the stay on individual creditor collection, provision of post-bankruptcy liquidity and delays on termination of contracts with the debtor.

Asset separation captures the ability to separate assets from their concomitant liabilities.  This might take the form of a discharge, but is not necessary.  Essential is that the system provides clean title to a new owner of the assets, which may or may not be the post-bankruptcy firm.

As this is the core of any sensible corporate insolvency system, features beyond that are a matter of policy, and politics.

The full article can be found here.