In a landmark vote, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly decided on September 9 to begin work on a multilateral legal framework—effectively a treaty or convention—for sovereign debt restructuring, in order to improve the global financial system. The resolution was introduced by Bolivia on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing nations and China. In part, it was sparked by recent litigation in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that, to comply with a pari passu clause (imposing an equal-and-ratable repayment obligation), Argentina could not pay holders of exchanged bonds without also paying holdouts who retained the original bonds. That decision was all the more dramatic because the holdouts included hedge funds—sometimes characterized as “vulture funds”—that purchased the original bonds at a deep discount, yet sued for full payment.
Archive for the ‘Bankruptcy & Financial Distress’ Category
On September 29, 2014, the Financial Stability Board (the “FSB”) published a consultative document concerning cross-border recognition of resolution actions and the removal of impediments to the resolution of globally active, systemically important financial institutions (the “Consultative Document”). The Consultative Document encourages jurisdictions to include in their statutory frameworks seven elements that would enable prompt effect to be given to foreign resolution actions. In addition, due to a recognized gap between the various national legal resolution regimes that are currently in place and those recommended by the FSB, the Consultative Document sets forth two “contractual solutions”—that is, resolution-related arrangements to be implemented as a matter of contract among the private parties involved—to address two underlying substantive issues that the FSB considers critical for orderly cross-border resolution, namely:
In Quadrant Structured Products Company, Ltd. v. Vertin (October 1, 2014), Vice Chancellor Laster clarified the Delaware Chancery Court’s approach to breach of fiduciary duty derivative actions brought by creditors against the directors of an insolvent corporation. Importantly, the Vice Chancellor applied business judgment rule deference to the non-independent directors’ decision to try to increase the value of the insolvent corporation by adopting a highly risky investment strategy—even though the creditors bore the full risk of the strategy’s failing, while the corporation’s sole stockholder would benefit if the strategy succeeded. By contrast, the court viewed the directors’ decisions not to exercise their right to defer interest on the notes held by the controller and to pay above-market fees to an affiliate of the controller as having been “transfers of value” from the insolvent corporation to the controller, which were subject to entire fairness review.
Directors’ and officers’ (“D&O”) insurance coverage continues to represent a key element of corporate risk management. See memo of July 28 2009. A decision in the bankruptcy of commodities brokerage MF Global, In re MF Global Holdings Ltd., No. 11-15059 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 4, 2014), provides a recent illustration of how D&O insurance may be treated upon the bankruptcy of the insured company, depending on the specific structure and terms of the insurance at issue.
Ed Morrison, Judge Christopher Sontchi and I recently posted to SSRN our article recommending a major narrowing of the repo safe harbors, after presenting it at the Federal Reserve’s recent conference on Wholesale Funding Markets in which the Boston Fed president warned of the dangers in the repo market. Overall, we conclude that the Bankruptcy Code has aggressively and unwisely sought to regulate market liquidity and systemic risk, with the Code’s “safe harbors” from the normal bankruptcy machinery largely backfiring during the financial crisis. The sounder policy would be to limit the repo safe harbors to U.S. Treasury repos and repos of similarly liquid government securities.
On August 26, 2014, in the case In re MPM Silicones, LLC, Case No. 14-22503 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y.) (“Momentive”), the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York held that secured creditors could be “crammed down” in a chapter 11 plan with replacement notes bearing interest at substantially below market rates. Unless overturned on appeal, this decision will introduce a new level of risk to leveraged lending—secured lenders will face the specter of losing in a bankruptcy restructuring not only their negotiated rates, but any semblance of market treatment. This risk could result in a tightening of availability and increased costs to borrowers in levered transactions.
In our recent ECGI working paper, A Strict Liability Regime for Rating Agencies, we study how to induce Credit Rating Agencies (CRAs) to produce ratings as accurate as the available forecasting technology allows.
Referring to CRAs, Paul Krugman wrote that: “It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt […] could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favorable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job.”
However, the conflicts of interest stemming from the issuer-pays model and rating shopping by issuers are not sufficient to explain rating inflation. Because ratings are valuable only as far as they are considered informative by investors, in a well-functioning market, reputational sanctions should prevent rating inflation.
A clearinghouse reduces counterparty risks by acting as the hub for trades amongst the largest financial institutions. For this reason, Dodd-Frank’s seventh title, the heart of the law’s regulation of OTC derivatives, requires that most derivatives trade through clearinghouses.
The concentration of trades into a very small number of clearinghouses or CCPs has obvious risks. To maintain the vitality of clearinghouses, Congress thus enacted the eighth title of Dodd-Frank, which allows for the regulation of key “financial system utilities.” In plain English, a financial system utility is either a payment system—like FedWire or CHIPS—or a clearinghouse.
But given the vital place of clearinghouses in Dodd-Frank, it is perhaps surprising that Dodd-Frank makes no provision for the failure of a clearinghouse. Indeed, it is arguable that the United States is not in compliance with its commitment to the G-20 on this point.
Given today’s low interest rate environment, the enforceability of make-whole provisions has been the subject of intense litigation as debtors seek to redeem and refinance debt entered into during periods of higher interest rates, and investors seek to maintain their contractual rates of return. This trend has come to the forefront most recently in two separate cases, one filed in Delaware and the other in New York. In Energy Future Holdings, the first-lien and second-lien indenture trustees have each initiated separate adversary proceedings in Delaware bankruptcy court claiming the power company’s plan to redeem and refinance its outstanding debt entitles the respective holders to hundreds of millions of dollars in make-whole payments.  Conversely, In MPM Silicones, LLC, it is the debtors that have sought a declaratory judgment from the New York bankruptcy court that, on account of an automatic acceleration upon the bankruptcy filing, no make-whole payment is required to be paid.  Given the frequency which make-whole disputes have arisen and the enormous sums at stake, it is important for all investors to understand the various arguments for and against payment of a make-whole premium, and the specific issues to look for when analyzing debt containing make-whole provisions. Despite the various legal arguments that exist, the single most important factor will always be the specific language of the applicable credit agreement or indenture.
In a decision that could significantly limit the power of U.S. bankruptcy trustees to challenge cross-border transactions, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has held that the trustee overseeing the Madoff liquidation may not recover transfers made by Madoff’s foreign customers to other foreign entities. SIPC v. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, No. 12-mc-115 (S.D.N.Y. July 7, 2014). The court held that recovery of such “purely foreign” transfers would run afoul of the presumption against extraterritoriality reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in Morrison v. National Australia Bank.