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.
Posts Tagged ‘Bankruptcy’
Two recent bankruptcy court decisions have increased uncertainty over the right of secured creditors to credit bid in sales of debtors’ assets. Relying on and expanding a rarely used “for cause” limitation on a secured creditor’s right to credit bid under §363(k) of the Bankruptcy Code, these decisions may ultimately affect credit bidding rights in a broad swath of cases.
As the pace of Chapter 11 filings jumped in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, bankruptcy courts found their resources increasingly stretched. The number of Chapter 11 “mega-cases”—that is, cases that involve $100m or more in assets, over 1000 entities and/or a high degree of public interest—placed significant strain on the nation’s bankruptcy courts. Many of these cases involve numerous creditors and, given the stakes, litigation that has the potential to drag on for years. Against this backdrop, bankruptcy judges have developed a variety of strategies to foster the efficient resolution of such cases. Mediation is becoming a regular feature of contentious mega-cases, and judges are frequently urging parties to resolve their disputes. Where a compromise is not possible and litigation is unavoidable, judges have increasingly issued “roadmap” decisions that deny relief but provide a specific list of steps that need to be taken or changes to be made that will yield judicial approval. These decisions encourage parties to recalibrate their positions based on the court’s views on the matter, engage in productive negotiations, and quickly come to an agreement on a proposal that the court has already indicated it will approve.
Courts often face many challenges when assessing the solvency of a company whether public or privately held. Examples of difficult valuation questions include: would a company with a market capitalization of several hundred million dollars possibly be insolvent? Or, would publicly-traded debt at or near par be conclusive evidence that the issuer is solvent at the time? Or, would a company’s inability to raise funds or maintain its investment grade rating at a given time be sufficient to rule on solvency?
It is common in valuation and solvency disputes to have qualified experts with very different opinions on the fair market value of a company, often using the same standard approaches of discounted cash flows and comparables. How would the courts or the arbitrators decide and what is the role of contemporaneous market evidence in such disputes? In this article, we discuss the role of market evidence and possible misinterpretations of such evidence and highlight recent court decisions in the United States.
The Dodd-Frank Act established that certain swap contracts which previously were traded bilaterally (directly between buyers and sellers) must be traded through clearinghouses instead. Critics of this clearing mandate have mounted two main objections: a clearinghouse shifts risk instead of reducing it; and a clearinghouse could fail, requiring a bailout. In my article Clearinghouses as Liquidity Partitioning, recently published in the Cornell Law Review, I counter both objections by showing that clearinghouses engage in a socially valuable function that I term liquidity partitioning. Liquidity partitioning means that when one of its member firms becomes bankrupt, a clearinghouse keeps a portion of the firm’s most liquid assets, and a matching portion of its short‑term debt, out of the bankruptcy estate. The clearinghouse then applies the first toward immediate repayment of the second. Economic value is created because the surviving clearinghouse members are paid much more quickly than they would be in a bankruptcy proceeding. Meanwhile, the bankrupt member’s outside creditors are not paid any less quickly: they still are paid at the end of the bankruptcy proceeding, which the clearinghouse does nothing to prolong. These rapid cash payouts for clearinghouse members reduce illiquidity and uncertainty in the financial sector, the main causes of contagion in a crisis. And because the clearinghouse holds only liquid assets, it avoids the maturity mismatch between short‑term liabilities and long‑term assets that characterizes the balance sheets of many financial institutions. A clearinghouse therefore is much less likely than its members to fail during a crisis.
A clearinghouse achieves liquidity partitioning by engaging in netting. Thus, when a member fails, the clearinghouse uses short‑term debts owed to the member to immediately repay short‑term debts owed by the member. In this way, cash is intercepted on its way toward the bankruptcy estate and redirected toward other financial firms, who may be suffering their own liquidity shortages. The clearinghouse thereby shifts cash from lower-value to higher-value uses, decreasing liquidity pressure on the financial sector and thus the need during a crisis for a taxpayer-funded bailout.
In a comment letter and supporting paper to the FDIC on its single-point-of-entry (SPOE) resolution concept release, Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, argues that SPOE is conceptually sound and statutorily robust. However, progress to date on orderly liquidation has been so cautious as to cloud the credibility of assertions that the largest U.S. financial institutions, especially the biggest banks, are no longer too big to fail (“TBTF”). Crafting a new resolution regime is of course a complex undertaking that benefits from as much consensus as possible. However, if definitive action is not quickly taken on a policy construct for single-point-of-entry resolutions resolving high-level questions about its practicality and functionality under stress, markets will revert to TBTF expectations that renew market distortions, place undue competitive pressure on small firms, and stoke systemic risk. Even more dangerous, the FDIC may not be ready when systemic risk strikes again.
Questions addressed in detail in the paper and Ms. Petrou’s answers to them are summarized below:
The doctrine of piercing the corporate veil is shrouded in misperception and confusion. On the one hand, courts understand the fact that the corporate form is supposed to be a juridical entity with the characteristic of legal “personhood.” As such courts acknowledge that their equitable authority to pierce the corporate veil is to be exercised “reluctantly” and “cautiously.”  Similarly, courts also recognize that it is perfectly legitimate to create a corporation or other form of limited liability company business organization such as an LLC “for the very purpose of escaping personal liability” for the debts incurred by the enterprise. 
Bankruptcy law in the United States, which serves as an important precedent for the treatment of derivatives under insolvency law worldwide, gives creditors in derivatives transactions special rights and immunities in the bankruptcy process, including virtually unlimited enforcement rights against the debtor (hereinafter, the “safe harbor”). The concern is that these special rights and immunities grew incrementally, primarily due to industry lobbying and without a systematic and rigorous vetting of their consequences.
This type of legislative accretion process is a form of path dependence—a process in which the outcome is shaped by its historical path. To understand path dependence, consider Professor Mark Roe’s example of an 18th century fur trader who cuts a winding path through the woods to avoid dangers. Later travelers follow this path, and in time it becomes a paved road and houses and industry are erected alongside. Although the dangers that affected the fur trader are long gone, few question the road’s inefficiently winding route.
For the second time in six months, Judge Sean H. Lane of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York declined to approve a $20 million severance payment to Thomas Horton, Chief Executive Officer of AMR Corporation. Earlier this year, as described in our April 18, 2013 client alert (discussed here), Judge Lane reviewed and denied the Horton severance payment as part of the $11 billion merger of US Airways and AMR Corporation but he left open the possibility—without expressing a view—of pursuing such a payment under the chapter 11 plan. In a September 13, 2013 decision, Judge Lane reviewed the same $20 million severance payment, this time included as part of AMR Corporation’s plan of reorganization, and, while confirming the plan of reorganization, again denied the severance payment. 
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a dizzyingly complex and inefficient process. Voting on potential reorganization plans take place by class, rules are based on achieving majorities and super-majorities by different standards, and a judge must evaluate the plan to ensure it respects pre-bankruptcy entitlements appropriately. Plan proponents can gerrymander plans in order to isolate creditors; hedge funds can buy positions that pay off if plans fail while allowing them to exert influence over the negotiation process; and judges are often unable to stop such gaming. To cut through this morass, lawyers and economists have proposed reforms, such as holding an auction for the firm or offering options to junior creditors that enable them to buy out senior creditors.
While these reforms could make important steps towards improving Chapter 11, they neglect a crucial problem the current system is designed to address: that of collective action. The current owners of various claims on the firm are usually well-suited to play the particular roles they are playing within the capital structure. Because of sunk investments in learning about the firm or their risk-preferences they are the most valuable investors to hold the assets they hold. A reorganized firm that does not have their appropriate participation may not be nearly as valuable as one that does. In fact, it may be better to liquidate the firm, even if reorganization could be efficient, than to reorganize it with the wrong owners.