The Proceduralist Inversion – A Response to Skeel

By Edward J. Janger (Professor, Brooklyn Law School) and Adam J. Levitin (Professor, Georgetown University Law Center)

Edward J. Janger
Adam J. Levitin

In Distorted Choice in Corporate Bankruptcy, David Skeel offers a nuanced description of restructuring support agreements (RSAs) and how they can help a debtor to achieve the necessary consensus around a proposed Chapter 11 plan of reorganization. We take issue, however, with Skeel’s permissive view toward RSAs that permits provisions that would short circuit the “process” protections contained in Chapter 11. Such provisions include pre-disclosure lock-ups, milestones, and coercive deathtraps.

Chapter 11 contemplates bargaining in the shadow of certain basic statutory “distributional” entitlements: equal treatment, best interests, full cash payment of administrative expenses, and a guaranteed minimum-cramdown distribution. As such, RSAs can either reinforce the link between entitlement and distribution, or they can sever it.

In our view, Skeel insufficiently appreciates the purpose of process—how procedural protections such as classification, disclosure, and solicitation surrounding the vote forge the crucial link between bankruptcy bargaining and core principles of corporate governance and pre-bankruptcy entitlement. We offer, instead, an approach which sorts between process-enhancing RSAs and those that facilitate end-runs.

The article can be found here.

Bankruptcy’s Cathedral: Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Distress

By Vincent S.J. Buccola (University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School)

What good can a corporate bankruptcy regime do in the modern economy? The question bears asking because the environment in which distressed companies find themselves is so markedly different from the environment of just twenty years ago—to say nothing of the days of the equity receiverships, of sections 77 and 77B, of Chapters X and XI. The most important changes are well known: increased depth and liquidity of financial markets and, especially, increased capacity of financial contracting to say ex ante how distress will be resolved ex post. Recent efforts to take stock of contemporary bankruptcy practice, most notably the ABI’s Chapter 11 reform project, grapple implicitly with the significance of a changing environment. But by leaving the matter implicit, they underscore a lacuna about what the law’s marginal contribution to the economic order might be.

In a forthcoming article, Bankruptcy’s Cathedral, I hazard a general answer and elaborate its implications for a few prominent uses of bankruptcy in today’s practice.

The characteristic function of bankruptcy law, I say, is to recharacterize the mode in which an investor’s relationship to a distressed firm is governed. In particular, bankruptcy frequently toggles the protection of an investor’s economic interests from a property rule, in the Calabresi and Melamed sense, to a liability rule. It swaps out the investor’s unilateral right upon default to withdraw her investment, when such a right would ordinarily prevail, in favor of a judicially mediated procedure designed to give her the official value of her right. The automatic stay furnishes an example. It extinguishes a secured creditor’s power to repossess and sell collateral, and supplies instead a right only to what the bankruptcy judge determines to be “adequate protection” of its interest in the collateral.

This toggling function can be useful, Property rules are often more efficient during a company’s financial health than during distress. A state-contingent meta rule that switches between the two thus might be optimal. But what about financial contracting? Why can’t investors stipulate state-contingent meta rules if indeed they can maximize surplus by doing so? The short answer is that in some cases contract is sufficient, but in other cases legal or practical impediments are insuperable. The marginal contribution of bankruptcy law, then, is to supply toggling rules where investors cannot practically do so on their own.

One implication of my approach is to index the justifiable scope of bankruptcy to contingent facts about the efficacy of financial contracting. In environments where it is difficult for investors to specify state-contingent toggling rules, whether because of legal prohibition or practical impossibility, the compass for bankruptcy law is wider. As contract becomes more efficacious, bankruptcy’s brief grows correspondingly shorter.

This normative schema can be used to assess one-by-one the many actual interventions of bankruptcy laws. I scrutinize three uses of bankruptcy that are important in today’s practice: to confirm prepackaged plans, to effect going-concern sales, and to take advantage of the automatic stay. I find plausible justifications for a legal institution to bind holdout creditors and to extinguish in rem claims against a debtor’s assets. The automatic stay, on the other hand, is harder to justify. (The curious must read within to find out why.) More generally, though, my approach shows how one can weigh the contributions of a bankruptcy regime against its redundant or even counterproductive in light of contracting innovations.

The complete article is available for download here.

Financially Distressed Companies, Restructuring and Creditors’ Interests: What is a Director to Do?

By Andrew Keay (University of Leeds)

Out of court restructuring is a popular and, according to many, optimal way of resolving the circumstances of insolvent companies in the UK, and probably more so since the advent in the UK of the Enterprises Act 2002. One concern that some commentators have raised is the fact that the opportunities to engage in such restructuring are likely to be reduced given the way that the courts have approached claims that directors who have initiated restructuring strategies are liable for breach of duty in failing to take into account the interests of company creditors when their company is insolvent or near to it (as applied by section 172(3) of the Companies Act 2006 in the UK). Allied to this is the concern that if directors are not granted freedom to use their discretion in entering into a restructuring process companies might be placed into administration or liquidation when they have some prospect of continuing to trade and to do so profitably, because directors may choose to be risk averse in placing a company into administration or liquidation rather than take the risk of being held liable for breach of the duty if they attempt restructuring. This paper examines whether the aforementioned concerns are realistic, given the law, and, if they are, what directors should be doing to ensure that they do not breach the obligation in relation to creditors. These are important issues as little consideration has been given in the UK to the issue of liability of directors for breach of duty in the wake of a restructuring. The issues are considered in light of section 172(3) of the Companies Act 2006 which makes the director’s duty to promote the success of the company for the benefit of the shareholders (as under section 172(1) and providing for what is known as ‘enlightened shareholder value’) subject to any rule of law that requires directors to consider the interests of creditors. It is a rule of law in the UK (and in many Commonwealth countries and Ireland) that when their company is insolvent or in dire financial distress directors must take into account the interests of creditors.

The paper finds that while directors might be subject to liability in entering into restructuring attempts, this is only going to occur in limited cases and so there should not be particular concern over liability. This is because first of all courts will not hold directors liable if they acted in good faith and took into account the interests of creditors, and regarded these interests as paramount in their considerations. Even if the directors failed to take into account the interests of creditors or failed to make them paramount, they will not be liable where the court finds that the honest and intelligent director, taking into account creditors’ interests, would have entered into the restructuring in any event on the basis that it would benefit creditors. Obviously if directors restructure in such a way as to benefit themselves or specific creditors, or they have improper motives, then liability is more likely to ensue. But, where the directors have acted reasonably then they should be safe from challenge.

The full article is available here.

Selling Innovation in Bankruptcy

posted in: 363 Sale, Valuation | 0

By Song Ma (Yale School of Management), (Joy) Tianjiao Tong (Duke University, Fuqua School of Business), and Wei Wang (Queen’s School of Business).

The past decades have witnessed the emergence of patent sales in corporate bankruptcies. Yet we know little about the facts and rationales of these important economic transactions.

In this working paper, we assemble a comprehensive data set of US Chapter 11 filings, USPTO patent transaction documents, and court records on assets sales from the past three decades. We document three stylized facts on patent sales in bankruptcy. First, patent sales are pervasive — more than 40% of bankrupt firms sell at least one patent, and on average they sell 18% of their patent portfolios. Second, patent transactions occur immediately after bankruptcy filing — concentrating largely within the first two quarters after filing. Third, patents are frontloaded in general asset sales in bankruptcy — firms sell a disproportionately large quantity of patents in asset sales during the early period of reorganization.

Why do firms sell patents during bankruptcy? We design a set of empirical tests to study the economic decisions behind patent sales based on the two economic views on assets reallocation in bankruptcy, namely asset restructuring and financing through asset sales. Our results show that bankrupt firms reallocate patents that are more redeployable and trade in a more liquid market . We find no evidence that they sell underexploited or underperforming patents. This pattern of selling more liquid patents holds stronger in firms with financial distress, firms undergoing poor industry conditions, and firms lacking external financing. The combined evidence lends support to the view that firms sell innovation during bankruptcy for financing purposes rather than for asset restructuring. Additionally, we find that bankrupt firms try to retain the inventors of sold patents and continue to cite sold patents after their sale. The evidence overall suggests that a firm’s imminent financing needs interact with its intent to avoid bankruptcy costs in shaping a firm’s decision to sell patents in bankruptcy.

The full paper is available here.


The Roundtable will be off for the holidays. We’ll be back early after the New Year.

Optimal Capital Structure and Bankruptcy Choice: Dynamic Bargaining vs. Liquidation

posted in: Valuation | 0

By Samuel Antill and Steven R. Grenadier (Stanford Graduate School of Business)

In this work, we develop and solve a continuous-time dynamic bargaining model of Chapter 11 reorganization. We include many features of the Chapter 11 process, such as the automatic stay, suspension of dividends, the exclusivity period, post-exclusivity proposals by creditors, and the potential for forced conversion to Chapter 7. The reorganized firm may issue new debt and continue operating. Moreover, both debtors and creditors face uncertainty over future asset values as they debate reorganization plans. We solve for the equilibrium and the corresponding expected payoffs to creditors and equityholders.

Using this equilibrium, we proceed to model a firm’s optimal capital structure decision in a framework in which the firm may later choose to enter either Chapter 11 reorganization or Chapter 7 liquidation. Creditors anticipate equityholders’ future reorganization incentives and price them into credit spreads when the debt is issued (ex ante). The implied capital structure results in both higher credit spreads and dramatically lower leverage than existing models suggest. Giving creditors more bargaining power in bankruptcy typically leads to higher leverage and ex ante firm value, consistent with empirical evidence. If reorganization is less efficient than liquidation, the added option of reorganization can actually make equityholders worse off ex ante, even if the firm is eventually liquidated.

The full article is available here.

The New Bond Workouts

By William W. Bratton (University of Pennsylvania Law School)

Bond workouts are a dysfunctional method of debt restructuring, ridden with opportunistic and coercive behavior by bondholders and bond issuers. Yet since 2008 bond workouts have quietly started to work. A cognizable portion of the restructuring market has shifted from bankruptcy courts to out-of-court workouts by way of exchange offers made only to large institutional investors. The new workouts feature a battery of strong-arm tactics by bond issuers, and aggrieved bondholders have complained in court. A fracas followed in courts of the Second Circuit, where a new, broad reading of the primary law governing workouts, section 316(b) of the Trust Indenture Act of 1939 (“TIA”), was mooted in the Southern District of New York, only to be rejected by a Second Circuit panel.

In “The New Bond Workouts,” Adam Levitin and I exploit the bond market’s reaction to the recent volatility in the law to reassess the desirability of section 316(b). Section 316(b), which prohibits majority-vote amendments of bond payment terms and forces bond issuers seeking to restructure to resort to untoward exchange offers, has attracted intense criticism, with calls for its amendment or repeal. Yet section 316(b)’s staunch defenders argue that mom-and-pop bondholders need protection against sharp-elbowed issuer tactics.

Many of the empirical assumptions made in the debate no longer hold true. Markets have learned to live with section 316(b)’s limitations. Workouts generally succeed, so there is no serious transaction cost problem stemming from the TIA; when a company goes straight into bankruptcy, there tend to be independent motivations. But workout by majority amendment will not systematically disadvantage bondholders.  Indeed, the recent turn to secured creditor control of bankruptcy proceedings makes workouts all the more attractive to them, as their claims tend to be unsecured. Accordingly, we cautiously argue for the repeal of section 316(b). Section 316(b) no longer does much work, even as it prevents bondholders and bond issuers from realizing their preferences regarding modes of restructuring and voting rules. The contractual particulars are best left to the market. Still, markets are imperfect, and a free-contracting regime may result in abuses. Accordingly, repeal of section 316(b) should be accompanied by the resuscitation of the long forgotten intercreditor good faith duties, which present a more fact-sensitive way to police overreaching in bond workouts than section 316(b).

The full paper is available here.

For previous Roundtable posts on Marblegate, section 316(b), and bond workouts, see “Second Circuit Rules on § 316(b) in Marblegate“; Liu, “Exit Consents in Debt Restructurings“; Roe, “The Trust Indenture Act of 1939 in Congress and the Courts in 2016: Bringing the SEC to the Table.”

Out-of-Court Restructurings After Marblegate: Trust Indenture Act Section 316(b) and Beyond

Lawyers from Davis Polk, Drinker Biddle, and Wilmer Hale recently held a panel discussion entitled “Out-of-Court Restructurings After Marblegate: Trust Indenture Act Section 316(b) and Beyond.” Jude Gorman of Reorg Research moderated.

The panelists considered the future of out-of-court restructurings and refinancings in light of the Second Circuit’s recent Marblegate decision, the latest development in the litigation between Marblegate Asset Management and Education Management Corp. The panelists discussed several issues surrounding section 316(b) of the Trust Indenture Act (“TIA”), including its underlying policy rationale, how the statute might serve capital markets most effectively, the practical application of 316(b) after the Second Circuit’s decision, and the likelihood of near-term changes to the legal context for out-of-court restructurings. Of particular note, James Millar, of Drinker Biddle, discussed how guarantees of bonds may be treated independently from the underlying bond under the TIA and, hence, subject to 316(b). George Shuster, of WilmerHale, noted that the decision could lead unhappy bondholders to pursue involuntary chapter 11 cases or fraudulent transfer actions. Byron Rooney, of Davis Polk, discussed how the lower court decision in Marblegate had disrupted opinion practice. Finally, Mark Roe emphasized that the SEC has broad authority to issue exemptions, presumably prospectively and generally, as well as on a case-by-case basis; although the SEC has used this authority only occasionally, in theory, bond market players unhappy with the impact of 316(b) could seek conditional exemptions.

Reorg Research’s summary of the session is available here.

(This post comes from Paavani Garg, J.D. ’18.)


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.

Second Circuit Rules on § 316(b) in Marblegate

posted in: Workouts and Pre-Packs | 0

Last week, the Second Circuit decided Marblegate Asset Management, LLC v. Education Management Corp., holding that § 316(b) of the Trust Indenture Act (“TIA”) protects only bondholders’ formal, legal right to repayment, not their practical ability to recover. The Second Circuit’s 2–1 decision thus resolves uncertainty surrounding out-of-court bond workouts and returns to the pre-Marblegate practice.

The majority viewed the statute’s text as ambiguous and consulted the legislative history; it emphasized legislative history supporting the idea that § 316(b) protects only against the formality of a bondholder vote altering payment terms and discarded legislative history to the contrary as shards. The dissent concluded that the transaction “annihilated” a bondholder’s right to payment and, hence, ran afoul of statute’s plain language — which requires that a bondholder’s right to payment cannot be affected or impaired without the affected bondholder’s consent.

Law firms reacted rapidly to the decision. Wachtell Lipton, which represented the winning appellant, and Weil Gotshal both extoll the opinion. Paul, Weiss and Morgan Lewis see in the decision a clear rule that bars only express changes to core terms. Several firms, such as Shearman & Sterling and White & Case, emphasized that the decision will facilitate out-of-bankruptcy restructurings.

Squire Patton Boggs highlights limitations, arguing that the law remains “neither clear nor predictable” on when an out-of-court restructuring goes so far as to impair bondholders’ right to repayment. They caution against assuming that any action short of a direct alteration of core repayment terms is now permissible.

In his American Bankruptcy Institute column, Bill Rochelle notes that the decision’s focus on legislative history, including views contemporaneous with the statute’s passage, was unusual and, by implication, indicates that the dissent’s textual decision-making mode fits better with current Code interpretation. Seyfarth Shaw notes the decision’s limited practical effect because of the widespread use of binding votes in pre-packaged Code restructurings, which avoid § 316(b)’s restrictions.

The Roundtable has posted previously on Marblegate and § 316(b). In one post, Mark Roe argued that bondholders should not be barred by statute from choosing in their indenture whether to be allowed to reposition their bonds via a fair vote. Other posts include a summary of the National Bankruptcy Conference’s proposed amendments to the Bankruptcy Code to facilitate bond restructuring; a 28-law firm legal opinion white paper on transactional complications arising from the Marblegate district court decision; and an international perspective on the TIA’s prohibition on collective action clauses.

Revisiting the Voting Prohibition in Bond Workouts

posted in: Workouts and Pre-Packs | 0

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]

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