How Specialized Courts Changed the Chinese Bankruptcy System

By Bo Li (Tsinghua University – PBC School of Finance) and Jacopo Ponticelli (Kellogg School of Management – Department of Finance)

In the last decade, China experienced a massive increase in corporate debt and, more recently, in corporate bankruptcies. Despite the mounting pressure on its insolvency resolution system, little is known about how bankruptcy works in China and the role played by the government.

China’s bankruptcy system experienced two recent changes: the reform of the bankruptcy code in 2007, and the introduction of specialized courts between 2007 and 2017. Before the introduction of specialized courts, bankruptcy cases were filed in local civil courts. Characterized by limited expertise and long delays, local courts tend to operate under the influence of local politicians, who have strong incentives to keep financially distressed state-owned companies alive to reduce unemployment and boost their political career. Thus, even though  the 2007 reform aligned Chinese bankruptcy law with those in the US and Europe, timely resolution of state-owned firms in financial distress remains a problem due to the influence of local governments.

Recently, China’s central government promoted the introduction of courts specialized in bankruptcy, which are modeled on US courts and run by insolvency professionals. In this paper, we study the impact of the introduction of specialized courts across Chinese provinces a on bankruptcy resolution and credit markets. The introduction of specialized courts led to an increase in the share of liquidations of state-owned firms and a faster speed of processing in court. In addition, state-owned firms operating in jurisdictions with specialized courts experienced a decrease in the size of new bank loans, lower access to new loans, and lower investment in physical capital relative to privately-owned firms.

The full article is available here.

 

Piercing the Corporate Veil: Historical, Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives

By Cheng-Han Tan, Jiangyu Wang, Christian Hofmann (National University of Singapore Law School)

Corporate personality is not absolute and this paper aims to compare and critically examine the circumstances under which veil piercing takes place against the objectives of incorporation. The countries examined are a mix of common law and civil law countries, including China, England, Germany, Singapore and the United States. We note that English and German courts have in recent years adopted a more restrictive approach to veil piercing, with Singapore courts appearing to be sympathetic to the current English position. On the other hand, courts in the United States and especially China seem to accept a more expansive approach to piercing even while recognising its exceptional nature. One reason for this is because veil piercing has been used loosely in instances which seem inappropriate and where the matters could have been determined by other legal principles.

We suggest that this is sub-optimal and that a narrower approach to veil piercing is preferable. For one, the need to look beyond the corporation is usually only necessary where insolvency has intervened. Direct claims by creditors against shareholders or management therefore potentially risk undermining the collective insolvency framework within which creditors are to have their claims adjudicated. Another reason is that veil piercing potentially overlaps with other legal doctrines, particularly the law of torts. As tort law is principally engaged with the issue of when civil wrongdoing arises, it will often provide a superior framework for determining whether shareholders or management should be directly responsible for alleged wrongdoing to a creditor.

The full article is available here.


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

Director Bankruptcy Experience and Corporate Risk Taking

By Radhakrishnan Gopalan (Washington University in St. Louis – John M. Olin Business School), Todd A. Gormley (Washington University in St. Louis), and Ankit Kalda (Indiana University – Kelley School of Business – Department of Finance)

In our paper, we evaluate the extent to which a director’s past life experience affects the policies their firms follow. The specific experience we focus on is corporate bankruptcy. We identify a set of directors that experience a corporate bankruptcy. We then evaluate the extent to which this bankruptcy experience of the director is associated with the subsequent policies of other firms that these individuals serve as directors.

A corporate bankruptcy can be either a liberating or a traumatic experience. If the bankruptcy allows the firm to shed excess debt and obtain a fresh start, it can be a liberating experience. On the other hand, if the bankruptcy is prolonged and destroys significant value, then it can be traumatic. An inefficient bankruptcy can also affect the future career prospects of the director as the market may partially blame them for the bankruptcy. Either way, a bankruptcy is likely to be a significant life experience and affect the director’s outlook towards risk taking.

We find that, on average, firms take on more risk if they have a director who has experienced bankruptcy in the past. Specifically, such firms finance themselves with more debt, are less likely to issue equity, more likely to take up riskier projects, as reflected in the variability of cash flows, and less likely to diversify their business through acquisitions. These shifts, however, are only present when the original bankruptcy was a less expensive affair. That is, when the previous bankruptcy was quick, resulted in a restructuring of the firm, and was accompanied by a smaller stock price decline. We also find that directors who are associated with such bankruptcies do not experience any adverse career outcomes.

Overall, our results highlight that, on average, a past corporate bankruptcy experience might actually increase a director’s willingness to take on risk in the future.

The full article is available here.

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Bankruptcy for Banks and Proposed Chapter 14

On November 13, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Big Bank Bankruptcy: 10 Years After Lehman Brothers,” in connection with the proposed “Taxpayer Protection and Responsible Resolution Act” (“TPRRA”). The TPRRA would add a new chapter 14 to the Bankruptcy Code, providing a recapitalization mechanism for bank holding companies or some other financial companies.

This version of chapter 14 would implement the “Single Point of Entry” financial company resolution model in bankruptcy. (The SPOE model contemplates that only a financial company’s top-level holding company would go into bankruptcy proceedings, with losses borne by its creditors, while material subsidiaries continue to operate as going concerns. For more, see here.) The bill contemplates a proceeding where the bank’s holding company would have a large amount of its long-term debt turned into equity over a 48 hour (likely weekend) period. The firm’s subsidiaries would continue to operate, but would be transferred over to a new, debt-free bridge company. The old holding company’s shareholders and creditors would have their claims handled through a bankruptcy process. The bill also included a 48 hour automatic stay on Qualified Financial Contracts (QFCs), but effectively requires their assumption by the new bridge company.

In his opening remarks, Senator Grassley noted that several similar bank bankruptcy proposals have been incorporated into bills introduced into both the Senate and House over the past several Congresses. (For Roundtable coverage of the 2016 and 2017 FIBA bills, click here, here, here, and here.) A principal difference, stressed by Senator Coons in his opening statement, was that the current bill would not affect Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act, as some prior provisions would have. The view that a special chapter 14 should complement, rather than replace the FDIC’s Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) is consistent with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s report on OLA, recommending against its repeal, released earlier this year. (For Roundtable coverage of the OLA, click here and here.)

The Hearing featured testimony by Donald Bernstein (Davis Polk), Professor Mark Roe (Harvard Law School), and Stephen Hessler (Kirkland & Ellis).

Video and testimonies available here.


For previous Roundtable posts on the resolution of financial institutions, see Howell Jackson & Stephanie Massman, “The Resolution of Distressed Financial Conglomerates“; Stephen Lubben & Arthur Wilmarth, “Too Big and Unable to Fail“; Mark Roe’s “Don’t Bank on Bankruptcy”; Mark Roe & Stephen Adams, “Restructuring Failed Financial Firms in Bankruptcy: Selling Lehman’s Derivatives Portfolio”; David Skeel’s “Bankruptcy for Banks: A Tribute (and a Little Plea) for Jay Westbrook”; and, “Financial Scholars Submit Letter to Congress Opposing Repeal of Title II.”

(This post was authored by Ryan Rossner, J.D. ’19.)

Regulating Bankruptcy Bonuses

By Jared Ellias (University of California, Hastings)

In 2005, the perception that wealthy executives were being rewarded for failure led Congress to ban Chapter 11 firms from paying retention bonuses to senior managers. After the amendment became effective, Chapter 11 debtors could only pay executive bonuses through court-approved “Key Employee Incentive Plans,” which required managers to earn their pay by accomplishing specific performance goals, such as increasing revenue or moving the firm through the bankruptcy process.

In my article, I use newly collected data on the compensation practices of Chapter 11 debtors between 2002 and 2012 to examine how the reform changed bankruptcy practice. I find that relatively fewer firms used court-approved bonus plans after the reform, but the overall level of executive compensation appears to be similar. I hypothesize that three problems undermined the efficacy of the reform. First, the 2005 law asks bankruptcy judges to police the line between “incentive” bonuses and “retention” bonuses, which is extremely hard to do – judges are poorly equipped to assess the “challenging-ness” of a proposed performance goal. Second, creditors have limited incentives to police executive compensation themselves and help bankruptcy judges perform their inquiry, and the Department of Justice’s US Trustee program, while vigilant, lacks expertise in executive compensation. Third, gaps in the new regime make it easy for firms to bypass the 2005 law and pay managers without the judges’ permission. I support each of these hypotheses with empirical evidence. Further, there is also evidence that the reform significantly increased the litigation surrounding bonuses plans and, unsurprisingly, the attorneys’ fees associated with them. In many ways this paper examines what happens when Congress tries to change the balance of bargaining power between managers and creditors, and the result appears to be that firms found ways to get around a poorly written rule.

The full article is available here.

 

Bankruptcy for Banks: A Tribute (and Little Plea) to Jay Westbrook

By David A. Skeel, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania Law School)

Over the past several years, Congress has considered various versions of a legislative reform that would amend the Bankruptcy Code to facilitate the prompt reorganization of systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”). The reform would adapt the “Single Point of Entry” strategy devised for use under Title II of the Dodd Frank Act to bankruptcy. In each context, the assets, short term liabilities, and secured debt of the troubled SIFI would be transferred to a newly created bridge institution, leaving behind its stock and long-term debt. The newly recapitalized bridge institution would be fully solvent, and could contribute liquidity to the troubled subsidiaries as necessary. Although the bankruptcy for banks legislation appears to have strong support in Congress, its reception among bankruptcy scholars has been mixed.

In this short essay, I take the opportunity of a celebration of the work and influence of Jay Westbrook to explore his and his fellow critics’ opposition to bankruptcy for banks. I begin the essay by surveying Jay’s wide-ranging contributions to bankruptcy scholarship. Jay’s functional analysis has had a profound effect on scholars’ understanding of key issues in domestic bankruptcy law, and Jay has been the leading scholarly figure on cross-border insolvency. After surveying Jay’s influence, I turn to the topic at hand: bankruptcy for banks. Jay has been a strong critic of the proposed reforms, arguing among other things that financial institutions need to be resolved by regulators and an administrative process, not bankruptcy. After addressing these and other objections, I ask Jay if he might reconsider his opposition if the legislation were amended to respond to several of his primary concerns.

The essay is available here.

Secured Credit and Effective Entity Priority

By Christopher W. Frost (University of Kentucky – College of Law)

The historical and doctrinal development of secured transactions and bankruptcy law has created a priority system that is asset based. Secured creditor priority is tied to the value of specific assets that constitute the secured creditor’s collateral and not to the value of the debtor itself. And yet, in corporate bankruptcy cases, lenders and their attorneys often assert broad claims to the entire enterprise value of the entity – that is to the present value of the cash flows that the entity will generate as a going concern. The doctrinal basis for such claims is often unstated, however, and several commentators have criticized the breadth of those claims under existing laws.

This article responds to those views  and argues that secured creditors can establish a broad enough security interest to create an “effective entity priority.”  The argument is premised on the notion that the broad secured claim creates a closed system in which all of the assets acquired relate, and can be traced, to pre-bankruptcy collateral. The secured creditor’s priority therefore may extend to the value of the entity, rather than the value of specific assets within the entity. Although the doctrinal claim is plausible, the article notes that it can be difficult to maintain under the facts of particular cases. Thus the article suggests that changes to the Bankruptcy Code and the Uniform Commercial Code that recognize true entity priority may provide clarity and efficiency to the bankruptcy process.

The full article is available here. The article is forthcoming in the Connecticut Law Review.

Creditor Governance

By William R. McCumber (College of Business, Louisiana Tech University) and Tomas Jandik (Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas)

A traditional view of creditors is that they are largely passive investors unless a borrower violates the terms of a loan agreement or misses a payment. However, like institutional shareholders, creditors hold concentrated positions in firm securities (loan shares), are sophisticated investors, and have access to senior management and non-public information. Since debt financing is much more common than equity financing, and because the great majority of credit agreements are honored, it is important to better understand how creditors advise and monitor portfolio (borrower) firms. We find that creditors play a significant role in corporate governance under normal circumstances, i.e. when firms are not in technical violation or default. Borrower firms are less likely than non-borrowers firms to file for bankruptcy in the intermediate future, and borrowers shift financial and investment decisions away from value-reducing policies and toward value-creating investments. Importantly, these changes are profitable for borrower firms since both cash flows and returns on assets improve at least three years after loan origination, which in turn decreases creditor portfolio risk. We also find that when creditors retain a larger proportion of the loan on their books, changes in borrower firm financials are more pronounced, providing evidence that creditors exert a greater governing force when more exposed to borrower risk.

The full article is available here.

A New Approach to Executory Contracts

By John A. E. Pottow (University of Michigan Law School)

Few bankruptcy topics have bedeviled courts—and busied commentators—as much as executory contracts. Perhaps the most nettlesome challenge is the problem of defining “executoriness,” which serves as the statutory gatekeeper to Section 365 of the Bankruptcy Code and its extraordinary powers. Elite lawyers, who are the closest approximation to chapter 11 repeat players, have no ex ante incentive to fix a definition; in part succumbing to a vividness bias, they want to exploit executoriness’s inherent ambiguity to select the definition perceived to be most advantageous in any given case ad hoc. From Westbrook to Countryman before, authors have struggled to find a coherent and normatively defensible definition of executoriness (including Westbrook’s call for its abolition) that would stop this gamesmanship, and even the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Review Commission has now entered the debate.

This article takes a new approach. It suggests abandoning the bootless task of finding the right test and concedes that executoriness is here to stay. This new approach focuses on the residuum of the “non-executory contract.” Using the policies, structure, and text of the Code, it argues that many of Section 365’s provisions can be synthetically replicated elsewhere. Doing so will blunt the strategic incentive to invest resources fighting the absence or presence of executoriness ab initio by scuttling the payoff. Concomitant gains will accrue to all.

The full article is available here.

The Secret Life of Priority: Corporate Reorganization After Jevic, 93 WASH L. REV. 631 (2018)

By Jonathan C. Lipson (Temple University – James E. Beasley School of Law)

The Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp. (In re Jevic) reaffirms that final distributions in chapter 11 cases must follow “absolute” priority absent the “consent” of priority creditors. The Court did not, however, define “consent” for this purpose, which is a problem, because consent can be hard to pinpoint in corporate reorganizations that involve hundreds or thousands of creditors and shareholders.

In this paper, I argue that, although the Jevic majority does not define consent, its reasoning reflects concerns about aspects of the reorganization process that may serve as proxies for it: stakeholder participation, outcome predictability, and procedural integrity.

First, I explain why “consent” is indeterminate in this context, inviting an inspection of process quality. Second, I assess Jevic’s process-value framework. Implementing Jevic’s values is not costless, so the Court’s commitment to them suggests that efficiency — the mantra of many scholars — is not the only or necessarily the most important value in reorganization. Third, I argue that these values conflict with the power that senior secured creditors have gained in recent years to control corporate reorganizations. Many worry that this power is the leading problem in corporate bankruptcy, producing needless expropriation and error. I also sketch opportunities that Jevic creates for scholars and practitioners who share these concerns.

Jevic reveals a secret: “priority” is not only about the order in which a corporate debtor pays its creditors, but also about the process by which it does so.

The full article is available here.

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