Implementing Symmetric Treatment of Financial Contracts in Bankruptcy and Bank Resolution

By Edward J. Janger (Brooklyn Law School) and John A.E. Pottow (University of Michigan Law School)

Financial contracts, such as swaps, repos, and options, are excepted from the Bankruptcy Code’s automatic stay by so-called “derivative safe harbors.” The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy provides a graphic illustration of how this device makes it almost impossible for non-bank financial firms, or other firms with significant derivative exposure, to restructure in chapter 11. Without a stay, non-debtor counterparties may run for the exits by exercising early termination rights, demanding payment, and offsetting obligations, thereby draining assets from the struggling debtor in a destructive rush.

The resolution regime for banks takes a different approach. It imposes a short stay on financial contract termination to permit the orderly transfer of a failed bank’s derivative portfolio intact to a solvent bank. This approach has been used for decades to preserve the value of financial contracts and to minimize the systemic disruption occasioned by bank failures. It has been extended contractually to cover many non-bank SIFIs through the relatively recent ISDA Resolution Stay Protocol. There are, however, significant gaps in the contractual regime. Non-SIFI financial institutions are not covered, and neither are non-financial firms that may have significant derivatives exposure, and may also be systemically important.

Our article offers a road-map for translating and generalizing the “short-stay” regime used for banks into chapter 11. The key to this synthesis is the bankruptcy concept of “adequate assurance of future performance,” provided through a commonplace bankruptcy device—debtor-in-possession financing. This financing can backstop the debtor’s timely performance of its financial obligations. We note that our approach would facilitate use of the “Single Point of Entry” strategy for restructuring financial firms in bankruptcy. Our approach also would, we contend, bring greater stability to financial markets, preserve otherwise evaporating value for insolvent debtors with a significant book of derivatives, and ultimately make it possible for many more firms to restructure in bankruptcy.

The full article, published in 10 Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial and Commercial Law 155 (2015), is available here.

 


This article was recently published in the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial and Commercial Law as part of a symposium volume entitled: The Treatment of Financial Contracts in Bankruptcy and Bank ResolutionThe volume includes papers by Riz Mokal, Anna Gelpern and Eric Gerding, Adam Levitin, and Irit Mevorach.

The Roundtable has also posted on this topic previously. See Morrison, Roe, and Sontchi, “Rolling Back the Repo Safe Harbors” and Murphy and Smith, “Bankruptcy Code with No Repo Safe Harbor—An Evaluation.”

Did Bankruptcy Reform Contribute to the Rise in Structured Finance?

By Kandarp Srinivasan

Financial contracts such as repurchase agreements (“repos”) have effective “super-priority” in a bankruptcy situation—they are safe harbored from the automatic stay provision. The common justification for this special treatment is the threat of cascade effects (systemic risk). The 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (“BAPCPA”) expanded safe harbor provisions for repos collateralized by mortgage-related securities.

This paper highlights an unintended consequence of preferential treatment: Safe harbor exemptions increased incentives for financial institutions to issue complex securitized products. From an economic standpoint, an increase in demand for collateral in repo markets can cause securitized products to become more attractive to issue (Gorton and Metrick (2012)). This theoretical premise has remained untested so far.

Using data from bank holding companies and underwriters of structured mortgage products, this paper finds an increase in mortgage securitization activity in years preceding the financial crisis. Hand-collected data on repo collateral in the tri-party repo market reveals underwriters of securitized products increased use of mortgage-backed repos in the quarters following the law change.

Understanding the securitization “flash flood” is important because regulatory responses during the financial crisis (for example, TARP) were primarily targeted at buying securitized assets. Yet, the Dodd-Frank Act directs little attention to repurchase markets (Acharya (2010)). If safe harbor contributed to the proliferation of securitized products, it renews the debate (Roe (2011), Duffie and Skeel (2012)) on the costs and benefits of preferential treatment of financial contracts in bankruptcy.

For the full article, please click here. The Roundtable has posted work on this topic previously. See Morrison, Roe, and Sontchi, “Rolling Back the Repo Safe Harbors.”

Tribune Fraudulent Conveyance Litigation Roundup

Recently, in In re Tribune Co. Fraudulent Conveyance Litig., 2016 WL 1226871 (March 29, 2016), the Second Circuit held that 11 U.S.C. § 546(e) preempts state law constructive fraudulent conveyance claims brought by creditors even though the text of § 546(e) mentions only trustees. The court thought it unwise to focus exclusively on § 546(e)’s limitation to trustees in ignorance of its context and legislative history. Using those indicia of meaning, the court concluded that the statute’s purpose is to insulate securities markets from avoidance proceedings, and that allowing creditors to assert state law constructive fraudulent conveyance claims would frustrate that purpose. Accordingly, it held such claims preempted.

Weil Gotshal, Shearman & Sterling and Mintz Levin believe the decision properly forecloses creditors from circumventing § 546(e) by either suing individually under state fraudulent conveyance laws or assigning their claims to the trustee. According to these firms, the decision thus reinforces equitable distributions because it prevents creditors from enhancing their individual recoveries.

Latham & Watkins, on the other hand, believes the decision’s “sweeping” language leaves creditors “stranded at sea” and doubts other circuits will join the Second Circuit’s expansive interpretation. Caplin & Drysdale agrees that the court went too far. “Any untoward consequences threatened by the simultaneous prosecution of claims by a trustee and creditors,” the firm explains, “could be prevented by a Section 105(a) injunction.”

Meanwhile, according to Freshfields, Schulte Roth, and Paul, Weiss, the decision merely reaffirms the Second Circuit’s commitment––announced in Enron and Quebecor––to expansive interpretations of the Bankruptcy Code’s safe harbors.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill to Amend Chapter 11 for Financial Institution Bankruptcies

On February 11, 2016, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 2947—the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act (FIBA)—which would amend the Bankruptcy Code to accommodate more smoothly the resolution of systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs). Introduced in July 2015, the current bill is essentially identical to an earlier version that passed the House in December 2014 (discussed in a Roundtable post here).

Like two pending Senate proposals, FIBA focuses on facilitating the recapitalization of a SIFI through a “single point of entry” (SPOE) approach similar to the strategy the FDIC has developed for implementing the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) created in Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act. During an SPOE resolution, most of the failing SIFI’s assets would be transferred to a non-debtor bridge holding company to continue operations, leaving long-term debt and equity behind in the original holding company to be liquidated. (For a previous Roundtable post describing SPOE, click here.) Although both the House and the Senate bills would adapt the Bankruptcy Code to support recapitalization, FIBA differs from the Senate proposals in some important ways.

First, unlike the Senate proposals, FIBA does not repeal the OLA’s regulatory resolution process. FIBA would eliminate some of the major differences between the OLA and the current Bankruptcy Code to make bankruptcy a more viable route for failing SIFIs, but the OLA would remain an option for regulators.

Second, FIBA does not address either private or public financing for the bridge company. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposal, on the other hand, explicitly prohibits federal government funding. The bill pending in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee also prohibits financing by Federal Reserve banks.

At the same time, FIBA and the Senate bills both impose a 48-hour stay on the exercise of contractual rights to terminate, liquidate, and offset qualified financial contracts to allow their transfer to a bridge company. At present, safe harbors in the Bankruptcy Code exempt such contracts from the automatic stay, and even the OLA imposes a stay of only one business day.

The full text of FIBA may be found here.

(This post was authored by Rebecca Green, J.D. ’17.)

Bankruptcy Code With No Repo Safe Harbor — An Evaluation

By Jeffrey Murphy and Lee Smith of Dentons

The ABI Reform Commission recommended that the safe harbors under Section 555 and 559 of the Code be revised to return to their pre-2005 contours and, specifically, that the safe harbors exclude mortgage warehousing, which is a short-term revolving credit facility extended by a financial institution to the loan originator. We believe that excluding mortgage warehousing transactions from the safe harbors will increase “contagion risk” and also reject the Commission’s assertion that mortgages, in comparison with other safe-harbored asset types, are “illiquid” investments based upon our experience with mortgage loan trading.  The largest banks, and ever increasingly, the largest investment funds, are major participants in the mortgage markets as originators, buyers, and market makers (the same cannot be said of, say, municipal bonds), and the financial crisis started with a subset of the mortgage markets: subprime mortgages.

We are not persuaded that repo financing contributed to the excesses of the credit boom of the mid-2000s, nor do we believe that the Bankruptcy Code safe harbors for the liquidation, termination or acceleration of repurchase agreements are to be indicted for causing “runs” on debtors that knowledgeable market actors will not restructure.  To the contrary, mortgage repos are a crucial component of healthy housing markets, and fairness requires that debtors relieved of their margin call obligations by a bankruptcy filing not have options to satisfy their obligations while the repo buyers are exposed to all the market risk.

For our full analysis of the ABI recommendation, please see here.

The ISDA 2014 Resolution Stays Protocol and the Bankruptcy Code Safe Harbors

By David Geen and Samantha Riley of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA)

The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (“ISDA”) recently published the 2014 Resolution Stay Protocol (the “Protocol”). Developed by a working group comprised of both dealer and buy-side market participants in consultation with regulators from France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Protocol has been hailed by the Financial Stability Board as a “crucial element[] of the policy framework to end too-big-to-fail.” In addition to addressing the failure of systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”) under special resolution regimes, such as the Orderly Liquidation Authority provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act or the EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, Section 2 of the Protocol also addresses the failure of SIFIs under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code (the “Code”).

Section 2 of the Protocol was developed to support SIFI resolution strategies under the Code where operating companies, such as banks and broker dealers, are kept out of insolvency proceedings altogether, while affiliates, such as a parent holding company, are restructured through Chapter 11 proceedings. Section 2 introduces a short, temporary stay on the exercise of default rights that arise because of the parent’s or other affiliate’s entry into bankruptcy proceedings to enable the SIFI to take actions to preserve the operating companies as going concerns. If the actions taken satisfy the conditions established by the Protocol, the termination rights that arose as a result of the SIFI entering bankruptcy proceedings would be permanently overridden.

Naturally, questions have arisen as to the interplay between Section 2 of the Protocol and the safe harbors for swap agreements under the Code. The Code stays, and safe harbors, default rights that arise because a counterparty to an ISDA Master Agreement subject to the Protocol enters proceedings under the Code; it does not stay (and therefore does not need to safe harbor) contracts between non-debtor affiliates and their counterparties. The Protocol only addresses the affiliate contracts, and thus does not alter the scope or application of the safe harbors.

To help interested parties better understand the Protocol, ISDA has developed a detailed FAQ. The full text of the Protocol can be found on ISDA’s website.

Derivatives and Collateral: Balancing Remedies and Systemic Risk

By Steven L. Schwarcz, Duke University School of Law

schwarczProfessor Schwarcz examines whether the bankruptcy “safe harbor” for derivatives is necessary or even appropriate to protect against systemic risk—such protection being the safe harbor’s articulated justification. The article examines the most important function of the safe harbor: allowing derivatives counterparties to exercise their contractual enforcement remedies against a debtor or its property notwithstanding bankruptcy law’s stay of enforcement actions. A threshold question is whether there is anything inherently risky about derivatives that might cause a systemic failure.

The standard answer is volatility. But, the article observes, regulation could reduce that potential for systemic risk in a more limited fashion. The article next addresses the safe harbor from the standpoint of its impact on avoiding contagion. The safe harbor is supposed to enable large derivatives dealers to enforce their remedies against a failed counterparty, thereby minimizing the dealer’s losses and reducing its chance of collapse. There are, however, several flaws in the safe harbor’s design to accomplish that. First, the safe harbor incentivizes systemically risky market concentration by enabling dealers and other parties to virtually ignore counterparty risk. Second, the safe harbor operates independently of the size of the counterparty or its portfolio. The article then examines how the Lehman bankruptcy might inform the safe harbor debate. The article offers a final caution: To the extent the safe harbor might amplify, rather than protect against, systemic risk, its negative impact would transcend the traditional derivatives market.

The full version of this article is forthcoming from the University of Illinois Law Review and is available in draft form here.

Rolling Back the Repo Safe Harbors

Authors: Edward R. Morrison, Mark J. Roe, and Hon. Christopher S. Sontchi

Morrison PicMarkRoeSontchi, Christopher resized_1

Recent decades have seen substantial expansion in exemptions from the Bankruptcy Code’s normal operation for repurchase agreements. These repos, which are equivalent to very short-term (often one-day) secured loans, are exempt from core bankruptcy rules such as the automatic stay that enjoins debt collection, rules against prebankruptcy fraudulent transfers, and rules against eve-of-bankruptcy preferential payment to some creditors over other creditors. While these exemptions can be justified for United States Treasury securities and similarly liquid obligations backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government, they are not justified for mortgage-backed securities and other securities that could prove illiquid or unable to fetch their expected long-run value in a panic. The exemptions from baseline bankruptcy rules facilitate this kind of panic selling and, according to many expert observers, characterized and exacerbated the financial crisis of 2007–2009, leading to a bailout of the repo market and the institutions supporting mortgage-backed securities. The exemptions from normal bankruptcy rules should be limited to United States Treasury and similarly liquid securities, as they once were. The more recent expansion of the exemption to mortgage-backed securities should be reversed.

This article is forthcoming in The Business Lawyer, and a draft is available here.

Another Court of Appeals Broadly Reads Settlement Payment Safe Harbor

By Michael L. Cook, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

The Courts of Appeals, with few exceptions, have broadly read the safe harbor defense contained in Bankruptcy Code §546(e) over the past 24 years.  It insulates a “settlement payment” or “margin payment” on a “securities contract,” “commodity contract” or “forward contract” from a trustee’s fraudulent transfer or preference claims unless the debtor makes the payment with “actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud creditors.”  Despite policy arguments by lower courts, trustees, creditors and commentators, the appellate courts have claimed to rely on the Code’s “plain language” to deny recovery.  In this Article, we discuss a recent Seventh Circuit decision that (a) reversed a district court’s “policy” decision purporting to divine Congress’s intent as to the proper application of the safe harbor provision; (b) rejected decisions by the Fifth and Ninth Circuits that refused to apply the safe harbor in the context of a Ponzi scheme; and (c) followed recent decisions of the Second and Fourth Circuits.

We discuss the Seventh Circuit’s close reading and application of the statutory language, “clearly and predictably using well established principles of statutory construction.”  Citing Supreme Court precedent, the court refused to rely on legislative history that was “neither passed by a majority of either House nor signed into law.”  Instead, the court explained why the safe harbor in the case before it yielded a sensible result, avoiding instability and uncertainty in the securities business.

We also review recent conflicting decisions in the lower courts that have resulted from imaginative attempts by lawyers to avoid application of the safe harbor defense.  Finally, we discuss another case pending in the Second Circuit that pushes the safe harbor defense to its outer limits.  That case asks (a) whether an intermediary is required in a safe harbor case, and (b) whether the defendant must show an adverse effect on financial markets.

Schulte Roth & Zabel Client Alert, April 3, 2014:  http://www.srz.com/Seventh_Circuit_Reads_Bankruptcy_Safe_Harbor_Broadly_to_Insulate_Preferential_Settlement_Payment_to_Commodity_Broker/

Practitioners, Academics, and a Judge Testify about Safe Harbors before Congress

Author: Stephen D. Adams

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law has held two sets of hearings in recent months on the bankruptcy safe harbors for repos and derivatives from the automatic stay, from preference and fraudulent conveyance law, and from the limitations on ipso facto clauses.

This past Wednesday, March 26, Judge Christopher Sontchi, Seth Grosshandler, Jane Vris, Thomas Jackson, and Michelle Harner testified. Last December, Jeffrey Lacker, Donald Bernstein, and Mark Roe testified.

Judge Sontchi argued that the 546(e)’s exception for all settlement transactions is too broad and also urged Congress to narrow the safe harbors for repos. Seth Grosshandler, of Cleary Gottlieb, reported on the work of the ABI safe harbors advisory committee (which includes both Judge Sontchi and Prof. Roe) and warned that the safe harbors are complex and potentially costly to alter.  Jane Vris, representing the National Bankruptcy Conference (NBC), and Thomas Jackson, professor at the University of Rochester, testified on bankruptcy of SIFIs as an alternative to Dodd Frank resolution of bail-out.  Michelle Harner, professor at University of Maryland School of Law, testified in her role as the Reporter to the ABI Commission on Bankruptcy Reform about the Commission.

Mark Roe, professor at Harvard Law School, testified that the safe harbors facilitate excessive short-term funding of financial institutions and impede effective resolution of large financial failures, like that of Lehman in 2008.  Donald Bernstein, of Davis Polk, a member of the ABI bankruptcy commission, testified about the bankruptcy adjustments needed to adapt bankruptcy law to the FDIC’s Single Point of Entry resolution mechanisms.  Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, testified about the importance of bankruptcy reform to reduce the problem of too-big-to-fail and reduce reliance on short-term debt.

The written testimonies are linked above, and the video of the oral testimonies for the March 26th hearing will be found here once it has been posted, and is here for the December 3rd hearing.

For more on the bankruptcy safe harbors for derivatives and repurchase agreements, please see the post by Steven L. Schwarcz and Ori Sharon summarizing their recent paper, The Bankruptcy-Law Safe Harbor for Derivatives: A Path-Dependence Analysis, and the post by Kathryn Borgeson, Mark Ellenberg, Lary Stromfeld, and John Thompson, entitled Lehman Bankruptcy Court Issues Safe Harbor Decision, summarizing a recent Lehman case decision on the safe harbors, both published Tuesday.

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