Singapore Schemes of Arrangement: Empirical and Comparative Analysis

By Wai Yee Wan (City University of Hong Kong), Casey Watters (Bond University), and Gerard McCormack (University of Leeds)

Wai Yee Wan
Casey Watters
Gerard McCormack

The scheme of arrangement, brought to Singapore through a transplantation of English law, provides one of the most flexible debt restructuring tools for companies. In 2017, Singapore enacted substantial reforms to its insolvency laws, transplanting elements of US Chapter 11, including a moratorium, rescue financing, and cross-class cramdown, into the flexible Singapore restructuring regime. Our paper (published recently in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal) addresses the effectiveness of English-modelled schemes as debt-restructuring tools in Singapore, both pre-2017 reforms and as a hybrid with elements of Chapter 11.

The English scheme of arrangement has been spoken of as a model for ‘early stage’ restructuring procedures. Although the scheme functions as Singapore’s de facto debtor-in-possession restructuring regime, it does not have any bankruptcy or insolvency stigma since it is a procedure based on company law rather than insolvency law. It is activated by the filing of documents with the court and an application to the court to convene meetings of relevant creditors to approve the scheme. The meeting of creditors under schemes is substantially similar to those conducted in Chapter 11 cases under § 341 of the US Bankruptcy code. Creditors whose rights are altered by the scheme are grouped into classes with creditors holding similar legal rights.

This is the first empirical study to date that comprehensively examines schemes of arrangement, including non-reported schemes, over a period. To this end, it employs a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data. To assess the schemes framework in Singapore, we conducted a study of schemes in three parts based on data availability. First, we examine the filings in court-sanctioned schemes of arrangement for the period 1996–2004 (with reported judgments). This period covers the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and includes private and publicly traded companies. Second, similarly, we examine the filings for schemes of arrangement with reported judgments for the period 2006–2015. This period covers the global financial crisis of 2008. We extended the database by including filings in court-sanctioned schemes of arrangement for SGX-listed companies, including non-reported judgments. Third, we examined the filings in court-sanctioned schemes between January 1, 2016 and May 22, 2019. May 22, 2019 was selected as it is the second anniversary from the date that the 2017 reforms came into force. We are able to have a wider sample size because cases during the latter period were tracked by the Supreme Court Registry. On examining the filings, we coded a number of variables related to the schemes of arrangement, including financial information related to the companies, class composition and outcomes of the schemes. Such data were manually collected and coded from all the filings, which were provided by the Singapore Supreme Court.

From our analysis of the data, we identified multiple characteristics of successful schemes, the most significant of which are controlling shareholder support and availability of new financing, often provided by the controlling shareholder. When present, disputes have centred on insufficient disclosure, with informational asymmetry a substantial concern identified in the study. Liquidation values were often missing and, when present, lacked a detailed bases for the stated values.

The results of the empirical study demonstrate the effectiveness of schemes as a debt restructuring tool for large insolvent companies. The scheme reforms, along with other insolvency reforms in Singapore, including adoption of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency, recent common law developments, and removing a ring-fencing provision that protected domestic creditors at the expense of foreign creditors, provide additional tools and lower barriers to restructuring in Singapore. The flexibility of schemes coupled with Chapter 11 tools make schemes an attractive debt restructuring option for many insolvent companies.

The full article is available here.

For related Roundtable posts, see Gerard McCormack and Wai Yee Wan, Transplanting Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code into Singapore’s Restructuring and Insolvency Laws. 

The Italian Insolvency Law Reform

By Andrea Zorzi (University of Florence)

Andrea Zorzi

On January 12, 2019, a new ‘Code of enterprise crisis and of insolvency’ was adopted in Italy.

The qualifying aspect of the new law is its emphasis on early intervention. The early warning system is based on enhanced internal monitoring and a ‘duty to scream’ imposed on public creditors, if the company is delinquent on VAT or social security contributions. All business entities must set up adequate ‘organisational, management and accounting’ systems that allow early detection of a crisis and timely dealing with it. The law also creates a public office that should help debtors to find an agreement with creditors or induce them to file for a proper reorganisation procedure.

There are incentives for debtors and directors who tackle the crisis early (and for auditors who take the appropriate steps). On the other hand, undue delay is addressed in various ways. Among them, a new presumption regarding the quantification of damages in case of directors’ trading after the moment when the company is deemed dissolved, that will make it easier for trustees to hold directors liable.

The reform also brings in updates on international jurisdiction, now entirely based on centre of main interest (COMI) (however, there is no general cooperation obligation with regard to cross-border insolvency), and a comprehensive set of rules on group crisis (seemingly compliant with the UNCITRAL principles).

Finally, the law makes relevant changes regarding two of the three available restructuring instruments, while there is nothing new with regard to the very peculiar reading of the absolute priority rule (APR) according to Italian insolvency law.

The law broadens the scope of the cramming down on dissenting creditors (subject to a 75% supermajority in the relevant class) in out-of-court, but court-confirmed debt restructuring agreements: once restricted to financial creditors only, they are now available with respect to all creditors. The confirmation of the plan, which envisages only intra-class cram down, is possible irrespective of compliance with any priority rule (absolute or relative), with the only backstop of a ‘best-interest test’, now based on a comparison with a liquidation scenario. This makes the Italian ‘scheme of arrangement’ a very flexible and effective tool (confirmation rates are also very high, in practice).

Regarding judicial composition with creditors (concordato preventivo), the law confirms the controversial requirement (introduced in 2015) that a minimum 20% payment of unsecured creditors is ensured when a liquidation plan is proposed, and adds the requirement of some form of ‘external’ financial input. By contrast, there is no such a threshold when the business is due to continue under the plan: however, ‘business continuation’ is now defined more narrowly than in the past – it is such only if creditors are paid mainly out of proceeds of the ongoing business, rather than from asset sales, or, under a statutory definition, if the continued business employs at least one-half of the previous workforce. This requirement may exceedingly restrict access to reorganisation or transfer wealth from creditors to employees.

As mentioned, the APR conundrum – the matter is domain of case law – is not solved by the new law. While the discussion regarding APR among creditors is confined mainly to what constitutes ‘new value’ (thus evading the APR waterfall), APR still seems not to apply to equity holders, in case of business continuation.

Finally, the new law introduces very minor tweaks to ‘plain’ insolvent liquidation proceedings, solving some interpretive issues but without an innovative approach, and makes the ‘certified reorganisation plan’, an out-of-court restructuring framework, somewhat more stable in case things don’t work out and the debtor ends up insolvent.

Certain new measures are already in force, but the whole new Code will come into force on 15 August 2020. It should be noted that the new law fully applies – as the law it supersedes – only to enterprises with less than 200 employees. Enterprises exceeding that threshold are deemed ‘large’ and, while being able to access ordinary restructuring tools, if insolvent they are subject to ‘extraordinary administration’, a special going-concern liquidation regime that provides for broad discretion for governmental authorities and the pursuit of business continuity even at the expenses of creditors’ rights.

The paper offers a comprehensive review of the main features of the new law, setting it in the context of the current Italian insolvency law framework.

The full article is available here.

For previous Roundtable posts on Relative and Absolute Priority Default Rules in EU, see Jonathan Seymour and Steven L. Schwarcz, Corporate Restructuring under Relative and Absolute Priority Default Rules: A Comparative Assessment.