Swaps, like other financial contracts (repurchase agreements, securities contracts, commodities contracts, forward agreements and master netting agreements), receive special treatment under the Bankruptcy Code. Their acceleration, liquidation and termination is not prohibited as an ipso facto clause and the exercise of setoff rights is not subject to the automatic stay. Transfers made in connection with these contracts are also exempt from avoidance as preferences and constructive fraudulent transfers as well as actual fraudulent transfer under state law. But their scope is not always free from doubt. Are provisions that modify the debtor’s priority of payment upon bankruptcy protected as well? Are provisions that the swap incorporates by reference protected? Must the swap counterparty itself exercise the right to liquidate, terminate and accelerate the swap? The Second Circuit just answered these questions.
By Vincent S.J. Buccola (University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School), Jameson K. Mah (Cyrus Capital Partners), Tai Yi Zhang (University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School)
Bankruptcy scholars have worried about the potential for credit derivatives to frustrate sensible out-of-court reorganizations since such derivatives became widespread in the 2000s. The basic problem they saw was that derivative contracting could complicate dealmaking by disguising investors’ true interests vis-à-vis a distressed company. Most perniciously, derivatives could lead creditors to oppose value-maximizing restructuring plans that offer fair treatment—not just for the familiar purpose of furthering a holdout strategy, but with the very aim of opposing the general welfare. In particular, a creditor with a large derivative position betting against its debtor could actively use its rights as creditor to drive the debtor into a messy and value-destroying default.
Many debt-market observers are sure that a recent episode pitting the hedge fund Aurelius against Windstream was a case in point. That episode has only increased attention on the subject, and issuers are experimenting with contractual devices that purport to muffle the influence of net-short activists at the expense, presumably, of secondary-market liquidity.
Our recent article argues that commotion over net-short creditor activism is misplaced—indeed that such activism is implausible. The nub of our skepticism lies in the incentives and capacities of investors other than a hypothetical net-short activist to foil the activist’s plans. The objective of net-short tactics, according to the story’s logic, is to cause a liquidity crisis that will reduce a targeted company’s value and prompt default. This objective implies, however, as a matter of arithmetic, that others can make money supplying offsetting liquidity.
Our article explores some of the channels through which this responsive liquidity is most likely to flow. We conclude that in the ordinary case one should expect parties other than the would-be saboteur to undermine its plans. If we are right, then it is a puzzle why a sophisticated potential activist would think it could succeed. A net-short activist bets not just on debt prices falling, as all short investors do. It bets rather on its own ability to cause the prices to fall. But in placing such a bet, the activist must know it is daring rival investors to profit by punishing it. The whole approach seems misguided. Which brings us to Windstream. Why did Aurelius think it could prevail at sabotage? As the article explains, we don’t believe it did and don’t believe it tried. We can’t say for sure, because lack access to the fund’s books and records. But so do the many other commentators who have opined on the story.
To us, then, one of the most intriguing features net-short activism is its rhetorical appeal. We suggest that the appeal lies in a kind of mythological function—that net-short sabotage has, in particular, the cautionary form of a good urban legend.
The bankruptcy courts and their appellate courts continue to explore issues of interest to practitioners and academics. This quarterly summary of recent developments in bankruptcy law covers cases reported during the first quarter of 2018.
Most notable were two Supreme Court decisions.Merit Mgmt. Group, LP. v. FTI Consulting, Inc.substantially reduced the scope of the financial contracts avoiding power safe harbor by directing courts to focus on the ultimate recipient of the transfer, rather than on the intermediate financial institutions who participated in the transfer.Village at Lakeridgeducked the substantive bankruptcy law issue of the standard for determining who is a non-statutory insider (although the dissent tackled it) and instead ruled only on the appellate standard of review of such determinations.
Moving in the opposite direction from the Supreme Court’s reduction of safe harbor protections, the New York district court, on an appeal from the bankruptcy court’s decision, gave a broad reading to the ability of swap counter-parties under section 560 to close out and distribute collateral upon a default. (Lehman Bros.).
The Ninth Circuit took a strong position on the open question in the application of section 1129(a)(10), requiring an impaired consenting class for confirmation, adopting the “per-plan” approach. (Transwest) And the Fourth Circuit gave another boost to reorganizing real estate debtors by permitting a bankruptcy court to value collateral in a partial “dirt-for-debt” plan. (Bates Land).
In a case largely of first impression, the Texas bankruptcy court proposed rules to apply the “single satisfaction” rule of section 550(d) when the trustee settles with some but not all defendants. (Provident Royalties).
During the first quarter, the bankruptcy courts also expanded the reach of chapter 15 and its effectiveness. (Manley Toys,B.C.I. Finances Pty Ltd.,Energy Coal S.P.A.,Avanti, andPlatinum Partners).
The full memo, discussing these and other cases, is available here, and the full (900-page) compilation of all prior editions is available here.
By Erika D. White and Donald S. Bernstein of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.
The U.S. banking agencies have issued rules that require U.S. G-SIBs and the U.S. operations of foreign G-SIBs to amend their swaps, repurchase agreements and other qualified financial contracts (QFCs) to include certain provisions designed to mitigate the risk of destabilizing close-outs of QFCs in the event the G-SIB enters resolution. The rules are part of a package of reforms implemented by the industry, Congress and the U.S. banking agencies since the financial crisis in an attempt to ensure that the largest financial institutions can be resolved in an orderly manner. Specifically, the rules seek to (1) mitigate the risk that the FDIC’s stay-and-transfer powers with respect to QFCs under Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act and the Federal Deposit Insurance Act may not be recognized and given effect outside of the United States and (2) improve the likelihood of success of a single-point-of entry resolution strategy under the Bankruptcy Code by limiting the ability of counterparties to terminate their QFCs with a solvent and performing operating entity based on cross-defaults triggered by the bankruptcy of the operating entity’s parent or other affiliate. The QFC Stay Rules do not, however, affect the rights of counterparties to terminate QFCs under the safe harbor provisions of the Bankruptcy Code in the event the operating subsidiary itself were to enter bankruptcy proceedings.