Posts Tagged ‘Creditors’
Monday, April 19th, 2010
International readers of this blog – and those in the US who practice internationally – are more than likely aware of the doctrine of “comity” embraced by US commercial law.¬† In a nutshell, “comity” is shorthand for the idea that US courts typically afford respect and recogntion (i.e., enforcement) within the US to the judgment or decision of a non-US court – so long as that decision comports with those notions of “fundamental fairness” that are common to American jurisprudence.
In the bankruptcy context, “comity” forms the backbone for significant portions of the US Bankruptcy Code’s Chapter 15.¬† Chapter 15 – enacted in 2005 – provides a mechanisim by which the administrators of non-US bankruptcy proceedings can obtain recogntion of those proceedings, and further protection and assistance for them, inside the US.
But in at least some US bankruptcy courts, “comity” for non-US insolvencies only goes so far.¬† Last month, US Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Argesti, of Pennsylvania’s Western District, offered his understanding of¬†where “comity” stops – and where US bankruptcy proceedings begin.
Judge Argesti currently presides over¬†Chapter 15 proceedings commenced in furtherance of two companies – Canada’s Railpower Technologies Corp. (“Railpower Canada”) and its wholly-owned US subsidiary, Railpower US.¬† The two Railpower entities commenced proceedings under the Canadian Companies Creditors’ Arrangement Act (“CCAA”) in Quebec in February 2009.¬† Soon afterward, their court-appointed monitors, Ernst & Young, Inc., sought recogntition of the Canadian Railpower cases in the US.
Railpower US’ assets and¬†employees – and¬†90% of its creditors – were¬†located in the US.¬†¬†The company was managed from offices in Erie, PA.¬† Nevertheless, it carried on its books an inter-company obligation of $66.9 million, owed to its Canadian parent.¬† From the outset, Railpower US’ American¬†creditors asserted this “intercompany debt” was, in fact, a contribution to equity which should be subordinate to their trade claims.¬† Judge Argesti’s predecessor, now-retired Judge Warren Bentz, therefore conditioned recognition of Railpower US’ case upon his ability to review and approve any proposed distribution of Railpower US’ assets.¬† After the company’s assets were sold, Judge Bentz further required segregation of the sale proceeds pending his authorization as to their distribution.¬† Finally,¬†after the Canadian monitors obtained a “Claims Process Order” for the resolution of claims in the CCAA proceedings and sought that order’s enforcement in the US, Judge Bentz further “carved out” jurisdiction for himself to adjudicate the inter-company claim if the trade creditors received anything less than a 100% distribution under the CCAA plan.
Railpower US’ assets were sold – along with the assets of its Canadian parent – to R.J. Corman Group, LLC.¬† Railpower US was left with US$2 million in sale proceeds against US$9.3 million in claims (other than the inter-company debt).¬† The Canadian monitor indicated¬†its intention to file a “Notice of Disallowance” of the inter-company debt in the Canadian proceedings, but apparently never did.¬† Meanwhile, approximately CN$700,000 was somehow “upstreamed” from Railpower US to Railpower Canada.¬† Finally, despite the¬†monitor’s¬†assurances to the contrary, Railpower Canada’s largest shareholder – and an alleged secured creditor – sought relief in Quebec to throw both¬†Railpower entities into liquidation proceedings under¬†Canada’s Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.
Enough was enough for Railpower US’ American creditors.¬† In August 2009, they filed an involuntary Chapter 7 proceeding against Railpower US, seeking to regain control over the case – and Railpower US’ assets – under the auspices of an American panel trustee.
The Canadian monitor requested abstention under Section 305 of the Bankruptcy Code.¬† Significantly re-drafted in the wake of Chapter 15′s enactment, that section permits a US bankruptcy court to dismiss a bankruptcy case, or to suspend bankruptcy proceedings, if doing so (1) would better serve the interests of the creditors and the debtor; or (2) would best serve the purposes of a recognized Chapter 15 case.
Judge Argesti’s 14-page decision, in which he denied the monitors’ motion and permitted the Chapter 7 case to proceed,¬†is one of apparent first impression on this section where it regards a Chapter 15 case.
Where the “better interests of the creditors and the debtor” are concerned, Judge Argesti’s discussion essentially boils down to the proposition that because creditors representing 85% – by number and by dollar amount – of Railpower US’ case sought¬†Chapter 7, those creditors have spoken for themselves as to what constitutes their “best interests” (“The Court starts with a presumption that these creditors have made a studied decision that their interests are best served by pursuing the involuntary Chapter 7 case rather than simply acquiescing in what happens in the Canadian [p]roceeding.”).
The more interesting aspect of the decision concerns Judge Argesti’s discussion of whether or not the requested dismissal “best serve[d] the purposes” of Railpower’s Chapter 15 cases.¬† For guidance on this issue, Judge Argesti turned to Chapter 15′s statement of policy, set forth in Section 1501 (“Purpose and Scope of Application”) – which states Chapter 15′s purpose of furthering principles of comity and protecting the interests of all creditors.¬† Then, proceeding point by point through each of the 5 enunciated principles behind the statute, he arrived at the conclusion that the purposes of Chapter 15 were not “best served” by dismissing the involuntary Chapter 7 case.¬† As a result, Railpower US’ Chapter 7 case would be permitted to proceed.
Judge Argesti’s analysis appears¬†to focus primarily on (i) the Canadian monitors’ apparent delay in seeking disallowance of the inter-company debt in Canada; (ii) the “upstreaming” of CN$700,000 to Railpower Canada; and (iii) the monitors’ apparent failure, as of the commencement of the involuntary Chapter 7, to “unwind” these transfers or to recover them from Railpower Canada for the benefit of Railpower US’ creditors.¬† It also rests on the fact that Railpower US was – for all purposes – a US debtor, with its assets and creditors located primarily in the US.
In this context, and in response to the monitors’ protestations that comity entitled them to judicial deference regarding the Chapter 15 proceedings, Judge Argesti noted that:
comity is not just a one-way street.¬† Just as this Court will defer to a [non-US] court if the circumstances require it, so too should a foreign court defer to this Court when appropriate.¬† In this case it was clear from the start that [this Court] expressed reservations about the distribution of Railpower US assets in the Canadian [p]roceeding . . . .¬† The Monitor has [not] explained how this¬†[reservation] is to be [addressed] unless the Canadian Court shows comity to this Court.
Judge Argesti’s decision may be limited to its comparatively unique facts.¬† However, it should also serve as a cautionary tale for representatives seeking to rely on principles of comity when administering business assets in the US.¬† In addition to his more limited construction of “comity,” Judge Argesti also noted that recognition of Railpower US’ Chapter 15 case was itself subject to second-guessing where subsequently developed evidence suggested that the company’s “Center of Main Interests” was not in Canada, but in the US.
For anyone weighing strategy attendant to the American recognition of a non-US insolvency proceeding, this decision is important reading.
Saturday, January 9th, 2010
When a foreign business entity commences a bankruptcy proceeding, US courts’ recognition of that proceeding depends on¬†whether or not it is a “foreign main proceeding” under the meaning of US Bankruptcy Code.¬† Whether or not a foreign bankruptcy is a recognized “foreign main proceeding” depends on the location of the debtor’s “center of main interests” (or “COMI”).
The concept of a debtor’s “COMI” has become a critical one – not only in the US, but in a number of foreign jurisdictions including the UK.¬†¬†Because the same legal concept arises in multiple jurisdictions, the manner in which¬†the “COMI” concept is applied across international boundaries carries with it the potential for the same sort of duplication, jurisdictional confusion, and mischief that led to the development and implementation of UNCITRAL’s model cross-border insolvency law in the first place.¬† Consequently, getting COMI right – and getting it consistent across jurisdictional borders – has become a matter of international concern.
The importance of COMI has come to light most recently in the Stanford matter (see prior posts here), where multiple courts have been asked to determine COMI for Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB).¬† In Texas, Judge David Godbey has taken extensive briefing from the parties in advance of a decision on recognition.¬† In London, Mr. Justice Lewison’s original decision finding SIB’s COMI to be Antigua – rendered last July – saw approximately 5 days of appellate argument at the end of last year.¬† The parties presently await¬†a decision from the English Court of Appeal.
The Stanford matter highlights a fundamental question about COMI:¬† Should it be a flexible concept, susceptible to broad judicial discretion?¬† Or should COMI be based purely on objective factors, precisely and mechanically applied?
Mr. Justice Lewison’s prior decision in London (summarized and avaialable¬†here) took an essentially¬†mechanistic approach to determining COMI, focusing primarily – as the UK Regulation requires – on¬†what creditors objectively perceived about the debtor.¬† US law – which, like England’s, is based on the UNCITRAL model – likewise places similar emphasis on creditors’ perceptions in dealing with the debtor.
But did legislators in the UK or the US intend that the¬†analysis should stop with what creditors knew or likely would have known about the debtor?
After all, Stanford’s operation was a sham.¬† And where creditors’¬†perceptions of SIB were based on a sham, is it appropriate to perpetuate the sham in determining COMI?
While the English Court of Appeal deliberates Lewison J’s decision, Judge Godbey appears headed in a slightly different analytical direction.¬† Specifically, the questions on which he’s requested briefing in the Texas proceeding appear to focus more specifically on the similarity of COMI to a debtor’s “principal place of business” as that concept is recognized under US law.¬† Though not inconsistent with what creditors would have perceived about the debtor, it tends to focus more broadly on factors which, though objective, are not tied as closely to what the debtor held out to specific parties.¬† Instead, the debtor’s “principal place of business” views the totality of the debtor’s operations – whether or not such operations were completely visible to creditors or other third parties – and, on the basis of these specific facts, determines the debtor’s principal place of business.
Whether a possible change in COMI analysis means a change in SIB’s COMI remains to be seen.
Sunday, December 27th, 2009
A significant amount of ink has been spilled in recent months over the state of the financial derivatives markets and their role in 2008′s financial melt-down.
Some of that ink has spilled into the area of corporate insolvency¬†- and in particular, into an examination of whether or not credit default swaps (CDSs)¬†- a type of derivative instrument designed to let a creditor hedge¬†its¬†risk with a debtor – have any impact on the dynamics of work-out negotiations when the debtor experiences difficulty repaying the debt.
This blog has devoted two prior posts (here and here) to the role of¬†CDSs and bankruptcy.¬† One of the troubling issues raised by researchers (and noted here) in connection with the distressed debt market has been whether or not high-risk investors (i.e., speculators) might be incentivized to buy CDSs on distressed debt, banking on the debtor’s default (akin to “naked short selling” of a company’s stock) on the anticipation that the debtor would fail – thereby triggering a payout on the CDS.¬† This issue is known more popularly as the “empty creditor problem” – so-called because speculators holding the CDSs issued with respct to a distressed company are not legitimate creditors, but merely risk-takers maneuvering to profit from (and thereby attempting to engineer) corporate failure.
As 2009 draws to a close, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) has stepped into the debate with a recently published research paper on the matter.¬† Entitled “The Empty Creditor Hypothesis,” the ISDA’s research paper argues – convincingly – that this sort of speculation is far less a problem than some have suggested.¬† This is so primarily because the pricing on CDSs begins to rise dramatically as the CDS-backed debtor begins to falter.¬† Therefore, the profits to be made from purchasing such CDSs are, effectively, non-existent – and there is little reason to speculate in them.
The ISDA’s point is that there simply isn’t enough of a profit to be made in purchasing CDSs typically issued on distressed firms – and therefore, insufficient potential payoff to attract the sort of “empty creditors” that have concerned distressed debt researchers.¬† As a result, the “empty creditor problem” really isn’t a “problem.”
But speculation isn’t the only point of impact that CDSs may have on a distressed debtor’s efforts to negotiate with creditors.¬† Where the holder of a CDS is also the original lender or the holder of CDS-backed debt, the existence of such derivative securities – which effectively “back-stop” the underlying debt similar to the way in which a fire¬†insurance policy “back-stops” the risk of loss on a building – may incentivize the company’s creditors to be far less flexibile in¬†their discussions with the debtor.
The ISDA attempts to address this potential effect by pointing to a small sample of data available for the research paper, which suggests that during the period that CDS hedging has been available,¬†workouts (i.e., restructuring events) have grown as a percentage of the number of defaults recorded during the same period.¬† Therefore, “the . . . statistics presented . . . would not appear to support the empty creditor hypothesis, according to which the availability of credit default swaps would make restructurings less likely.”¬† However, the ISDA admits that
“[a] full analysis of the relationship between [the] likelihood of restructuring and availability of hedging with credit default swaps would require extensive data collection, . . . and is beyond the scope of this note.”
The ISDA’s research paper has received attention – and succinct summaries – from the New York Times, London’s Financial Times, and Reuters.
The ISDA’s suggestion that CDSs have essentially no impact on corporate restructuring smacks of whistling by the graveyard: In fact, the impact of CDSs has been noted, at least¬†anecdotally, in several large corporate bankruptcy filings during 2008 and 2009.¬† Nevertheless, the precise nature and extent of the “CDS effect” remains to be seen – and is likely fodder for another research paper . . . or five.
Monday, November 9th, 2009
The fiduciary duty of directors and officers to the shareholders of their corporation is a fundamental axiom of corporate law.¬† Almost as familiar is the notion that when a corporation enters the “zone of insolvency”, those fiduciary duties expand to include creditors as well.
What may be far less familiar is determining precisely when the corporation has entered the zone of insolvency – and what to do¬†when it does.¬†
Where is the “zone of insolvency”?
It has been said that the zone of insolvency is a bit like obscenity:¬†¬†It’s practically impossible to define . . .¬†but you sure know it when you see it.¬† It may not be as well known that many businesses transit the zone of insolvency with surprising frequency at various points during their corporate lifecycles.
A recent law review article notes that “between 2000 and 2004, approximately 4% of 6,178 large publicly held companies engaged in merger and acquisition activity that placed over 75% of their assets at risk. Likewise, approximately 467 smaller businesses risked half their assets, and at least 603 smaller businesses risked one-fifth of their assets. Thus directors’ and officers’ fiduciary duties may oscillate between shareholders and creditors numerous times per year depending on the risk-taking strategies in which they engage.”¬† Jonathan T. Edwards and Andrew D. Appleby, The Twilight Zone of Insolvency: New Developments in Fiduciary Duty Jurisprudence That May Affect Directors and Officers While in the Zone of Insolvency, 18 J. Bankr. L. & Prac. 3 Art. 2 (2009) (citing Anna M. Dionne, Living on the Edge: Fiduciary Duties, Business Judgment, and Expensive Uncertainty in the Zone of Insolvency, 13 Stan. J.L. Bus. & Fin. 188, 191 (2007)).
Add to this the changing nature of financial investments in many companies (which now feature “hybrid” instruments with both¬†equity and debt characteristics) and the dramatic adjustment of multiples and valuations that have occured in the capital markets over the last 12 months, and it is easy to see that the “zone of insolvency” is hardly a bright line.¬† Instead,¬†it is more akin to a solar flare – it can depend as much upon the corporation’s financial structure and upon market conditions as upon the decisions made by the corporation’s officers and directors.
What to do once you’re there?
When a financially¬†at-risk corporation faces either operational or balance sheet insolvency, its directors and officers may face a variety of unique pressures and challenges.¬† Among them:
- Time pressure: A corporation with little or no operating liquidity is like a swimmer deprived of oxygen – precious little time remains before everything goes completely black.
- Credit constraint:¬† The corporation may face an uphill battle for additional, needed credit. Frequently, the only readily available source of cash are parties with close ties to the corporation – i.e., insiders.¬†¬†And such parties are apt to require advantageous terms in exchange for their incremental risk.
- Anxious stakeholders:¬† Creditors and shareholders anxious to protect their respective stakes in the corporation are likely to increase their scrutiny of every new transaction, and to “second-guess” anything that might further jeopardize their positions.
Top management’s response to these pressures is well-summarized by the adage that “process rules.”¬† Because each corporation’s situation calls for a unique set of decisions, and because corporate officers and directors have general duties of care and loyalty to the corporation (and to creditors when the corporation is operating in the “zone of insolvency”), they best protect themselves who ensure that any decision:
- Is advised by (but not delegated to) outside advisors.
- Involves directors who are independent and disinterested.
- Considers shareolders and creditors.
- Documents full, open, neutral and reasonable exploration of available options.
Two very recent articles offer similar advice and summarize some practical tips on insulating directors and officers – or on identifying behavior that may fall short of the fiduciary duties expected of such individuals when a corporation faces troubled times or elevated risk.
Gerard S. Catalanello and Jeffrey R. Manning offer their insights in a recent Turnaround Management Journal piece entitled “A Fresh Look into the Zone of Insolvency,” while Frank Aquila and Peter Naismith provide similar guidance in¬†”Directing Within the ‘Zone’,” available in Banking Director magazine’s 4th Quarter’s issue.¬† Each is worth perusal.
When do “zone of insolvency” considerations kick in?¬† And how frequent are such concerns likely to be in this market?¬† Catalanello and Manning put it this way:
[G]iven the realities of today’s economy and the capital markets, a company that has debt maturing in the next 18 months is likely to be at least approaching the zone [of insolvency].¬† If its corporate debt is trading at a material discount (i.e., more than 20 percent discount to par), a company probably is well over that stark demarcation.
Officers, directors . . . and creditors – take note.
Monday, October 5th, 2009
After a blazing start during the first half of 2009,¬†it was a¬†longer, slower summer for newsworthy Chapter 15 filings.¬† The last 3 months have produced a handful of new cases, including:
- Stomp Pork – The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based pig-farm operator sought Chapter 15 protection in Iowa’s Northern District on May 29 after being placed into receivership the same day under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in the Court of the Queen’s Bench, Judicial Centre of Saskatoon.¬† It was the company’s second trip to bankruptcy court after a prior, 2008¬†reorganization under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act.
The company’s Candian receiver, Ernst & Young Inc., planned to liquidate the company’s assets and distribute the proceeds to its creditors.¬† Prior to seeking protection in the US, the company received approval from the Candian court to sell its 130,000 pigs to Sheldon, Ohio-based G&D Pork LLC for $2.8 million.¬† Of these proceeds, creditor National Bank reportedly received $2.7 million.
The filing was made in an abundance of caution, but ultimately proved unnecessary: Following the sale and the distribution of proceeds, the debtor obtained a dismissal of the recognition petition on the grounds that no further assets remained for the Iowa Bankruptcy Court to protect.
- Sky Power Corp. – The Toronto-based developer of solar and wind-powered energy projects in Canada, the US, India and Panama (and portfolio company of bankrupt Lehman Brothers) sought protection in Delaware in August, seven days after seeking protection under Canada’s Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The company characterized its bankruptcy as part of a “domino effect” created by Lehman’s bankruptcy (Lehman was the major shareholder), as well as on reduced liquidity and on defaults triggered with respect to its senior debt by Lehman’s filing.
At the time of the filing, the company was reportedly relying on a $15 million DIP financing commitment from CIM Group Inc. for liquidity.¬† The facility was priced at prime plus 875 basis points (prime is given a 3.5% floor), matures November 30, and permits CIM Group to credit bid the DIP obligation toward a purchase of SkyPower.
Judge Peter Walsh entered a recognition order on September 15.
- Daewoo Logistics Corp.¬†- The Seoul, Korea-based shipping company sought protection in New York in mid-September to protect US-based assets from the immediate effects of an adverse arbitration ruling.
In addition to the award – obtained by Saga Forest Carriers International for $609,638 in New York’s Southern District – the company also faced 12 other actions, including five others pending in New York.
The company had previously sought creditors’ protection under the Republic of Korea’s Debtor Rehabilitation and Bankruptcy Act with the 8th Bankruptcy Division of the Seoul Central District Court.¬† The Korean¬†filing was allegedly a result of plummeting profits stemming from a decline in the market value of dry bulk shipping contracts.¬† The company also identified a failed land purchase in Madagascar, which was disrupted by a military coup in that country, as a source of financial stress.
Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland granted a preliminary injunction on September 24.
Monday, September 21st, 2009
A brief update in the ongoing struggle between Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith and federal receiver Ralph Janvey over control of the financial assets previously controlled by Sir Allen Stanford, including Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB):
Readers of this blog will be aware that several recent court rulings – including a detention order for Sir Allen issued by the US District Court and recognition orders issued in England and Canada – have threatened to undermine Mr. Janvey’s position in a Dallas receivership before US District Judge David Godbey, where Stanford’s financial assets are under court control.¬† For details on each of these orders and on other aspects of the Stanford matters, see prior posts located¬†here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Recently, however, Mr. Janvey may have gotten a little help . . . from North of the border.
In related rulings issued Friday, September 11, Mr. Justice Claude Auclair of the Quebec Superior Court found that Vantis Business Recovery Services – a division of British accounting, tax, and advisory firm Vantis plc, and the firm through which Messr’s. Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith were appointed liquidators for SIB – should be removed from receivership of SIB’s Canadian operations.
According to a report by Toronto’s Globe¬†and Mail, Mr. Justice Auclair found that Wastell and Hamilton-Smith’s firm acted improperly in destroying original computer evidence from SIB’s Montreal branch office and “stonewalled efforts by Quebec’s financial authority – the Autorit√© des march√©s financiers [the Financial Market Authority] – to get access to the copied information.”
In verbal rulings that will cost the liquidators control of the Canadian receiverhsip (which will now go to Ernst & Young Canada), Mr. Justice Auclair reportedly “derided” Vantis’ “high-handed” behavior after an Antiguan court made appointments to wind down SIB – and its Montreal office – and recover funds for alleged Canadian victims.
Reacting to arguments that Antiguan banking privacy laws prevented direct disclosure of information to the Canadian authorities and that destruction of SIB’s Montreal computer databases was necessary to keep them out of the hands of creditors seeking to repossess SIB’s Montreal office, Mr. Justice Auclair is said to have retorted, “As if we don’t have any safes in Canada to protect and preserve” such materials.
As if, indeed.
In pleadings filed with the US District Court, Mr. Janvey previously complained¬†that¬†the liquidators “erased all SIB electronic data from SIB servers in Montreal, removed data to Antigua, and attempted to seize over US$21 million in SIB funds through an ex parte legal proceeding in which they failed to disclose to the Canadian court the existence of [the receivereship] and the appointment of the US Receiver”¬† Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have, of course, indignantly disclaimed Mr. Janvey’s “scurrilous and specious accusations of misconduct” regarding their administration of Canadian assets.
Whether or not it is “scurrilous” or “specious,” the liquidators’ conduct has apparently created controversy with more than Mr. Janvey alone,¬†if the Globe and Mail‘s account is accurate.
Meanwhile, the parties await Judge Godbey’s ruling in Dallas.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
Several weeks have passed since Antiguan liquidators Peter Wastell and Nigel Hamilton-Smith and federal receiver Ralph Janvey briefed US District Judge David Godbey on the liquidators’ request for US recognition of their proposed Antiguan liquidation of Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB).
Readers will recall that Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have been at odds with Mr. Janvey, a federal receiver appointed in Dallas’ U.S. District Court for the purpose of administering not only SIB, but all of the assets previously controlled by Sir Allen Stanford (links to prior posts can be found¬†here).¬† Those assets and their creditors span at least three continents – North America, South America, and Europe – and have spawned insolvency proceedings in several countries.
One of the preliminary questions in these proceedings is which of them will receive deference from the others.¬† Of particular interest is which proceeding – and which court-appointed representative – will control the administration of SIB.¬† The¬†Eastern Caribbean Surpeme Court (Antigua and Barbuda)¬†has found, perhaps predictably,¬†that SIB’s liquidation is to be adminsitered in Antigua.¬† It also has found that Mr. Janvey has no standing to appear as a “foreign representative” or otherwise on behalf of SIB or other Stanford entities.
In London, the English High Court of Justice, Chancery Division’s Mr. Justice Lewison reached a similar conclusion in early July.¬† Based on a determination under English law that SIB’s “Center of Main Interests” (COMI) is in Antigua, he designated Messr’s. Wastell and¬†Hamilton-Smith as “foreign representatives” of SIB for purposes of Stanford’s English insolvency proceedings.
In Dallas, meanwhile, Judge Godbey has permitted the Antiguan liquidators¬†to commence a Chapter 15 proceeding under the US Bankruptcy Code and to make application for similar recognition of SIB’s Antiguan liquidation in the US.¬† Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith and Mr. Janvey have each briefed the question of whether, under US cross-border insolvency law, that liquidation ought to be recognized here as a “foreign main proceeding” – and, more specifically, whether Antigua or the US is the properly designated¬†COMI for SIB.
In briefs submitted over six weeks ago, the liquidators urged a finding consistent with that of the English and Antiguan courts.¬† They argued essentially that a debtor’s “principal place of business” is essentially the location of its “business operations,” and referred repeatedly to SIB’s undeniably extensive physical and administrative operations in Antigua.
In opposition, Mr. Janvey argued strenuously for a finding that SIB’s COMI is, in fact,¬†the US.¬† He did so relying largely on the contention that, despite SIB’s physical location and operations in Antigua, Sir Allen allegedly “spent little time in Antigua” – and that Sir Allen¬†effectively managed and controlled SIB from the US.¬†¬†Mr. Little, the examiner appointed by Judge Godbey to assist him in overseeing the receivership, generally concurred with Mr. Janvey.
Last week, Mr. Janvey’s contention may have received a set-back.
The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a detention order confining Sir Allen to¬†the US pursuant to a separate federal indictment issued against him – and in so doing, concurred in the lower court’s conclusion that Sir Allen’s ties to the State of Texas were “tenuous at best.”¬† The Fifth Circuit’s 3-judge panel¬†recognized that Stanford “is both an American citizen and a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda, and has resided in that island nation for some fifteen years,” and further noted:
Stanford admitted that he established a new residence in Houston in preparation for his required presence during the pendency of the case against him.¬† Several of his children have recently moved to Houston to be closer to him during the proceedings.¬† While Stanford did grow up in Texas, he has spent the past fifiteen years abroad.¬† His international travels have been so extensive that, in recent years, he has spent little or no time in the United States . . . .¬† [O]ne of Stanford’s former pilots [testified] that Stanford . . . engaged in almost non-stop travel on the fleet of six private jets and one helicopter belonging to [Stanford Financial Group] and its affiliates . . . .
On September 1, Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith sought leave to file the Fifth Circuit’s order in support of their prior application for recognition, and over Mr. Janvey’s anticipated objection.
It appears that where Sir Allen’s indictment is concerned, home is where the corporate jet is.
But where SIB’s liquidation is concerned . . . where is COMI?
Sunday, July 12th, 2009
A flurry of pleadings this week precede Judge David Godbey’s anticipated ruling on Peter Wastell’s and Nigel Hamilton-Smith’s request for recognition of their liquidation of Stanford International Bank, Ltd. (SIB), now pending in Antigua.
As readers of this blog are aware, Messr’s. Wastell and Hamilton-Smith have been at odds with Ralph Janvey, a federal receiver appointed in U.S. District Court for the purpose of administering not only SIB, but all of the assets previously controlled by Sir Allen Stanford.¬† Those assets and their creditors span at least three continents – North America, South America, and Europe – and have spawned insolvency proceedings in several countries.
The Antiguan liquidators previously obtained permission from Judge Godbey – over Mr. Janvey’s opposition – to commence a Chapter 15 case in Dallas.¬† The liquidators then¬†sought recognition for their Antiguan liquidiation pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 15 – which Mr. Janvey has again opposed.¬† A recent post on this blog summarized the Antiguan liquidators’ reply to these objections.
This week, as scheduled, John Little – an examiner appointed by Judge Godbey to assist the Court in overseeing the receivership – filed papers summarizing his position on the liquidators’ request.
Before he did so, however, yet another court – this one in England – weighed in on the Stanford matters.¬† In a decision rendered on the eve of America’s July 4 holiday, the English Hight Court of Justice, Chancery Division (London)’s Justice Lewison found that Antigua – and not the US – should be SIB’s “Center of Main Interests” (COMI) under the UK’s 2006 Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations (the general equivalent of the US’s Chapter 15).
The crux of Mr. Justice Lewison’s 29-page decision, at least as it regards SIB’s COMI, rests both on the burden of proof to demonstrate COMI and on the nature of the evidence required to carry that burden.
The English decision holds, first,¬†that once certain prima facie¬†evidence is¬†introduced to¬†establish COMI in a particular jurisdiction, the presumption of COMI in that jurisdiction arises in favor of the foreign representative and it is the burden of a contesting party to defeat the presumption.¬† Second, the¬†decision holds that the¬†only evidence that counts in rebutting the decision is that which would be objectively ascertainable to third parties – specifically, creditors.
Mr. Justice Lewison’s analytical framework leads to¬†an emphasis on the outward, physical aspects of SIB’s business operations,¬†which the parties generally agree were centered in Antigua.
Mr. Little, the examiner whose 19-page brief was filed last Wednesday, respectfully disagrees with Mr. Justice Lewison.¬† The essence of Mr. Little’s analysis is that it is the location of the management of an enterprise that determines its COMI.¬† According to Mr. Little:
Banks are not just groups of tellers and form checkers, but institutions that gather money, pool it and invest it in the hopes of keeping the funds secure and making a profit.¬† Banks are more than the street corner branch offices or drive-through windows at which people make deposits, cash checks, pay bills and verify balances.¬† The weightiest activities of a “bank” are the activities involved in what a bank does with the money it gathers and manages.¬† To determine the locale of SIB’s COMI, the Court must determine where that activity was primarily carried out.¬† (Emphasis supplied).
Mr.¬†Little also argues that the English Court’s decision ought not to guide Judge Godbey’s determination of COMI.
In particular, he argues that Mr. Justice Lewison’s assignment of the burden of proof regarding COMI – to the Receiver who, under English law, must overcome a presumption of COMI in the foreign representative’s favor – is at odds with American case law.¬† American law, explains Mr. Little,¬†renders the COMI presumption of little weight and further assigns the burden of proof to the foreign representative seeking recogntion of a “main case” – and not to the foreign representative’s opponent.¬† Mr. Little argues that the “objective” evidence “ascertainable by a third party” is far different than that which an American court would consider, as borne out by relevant US decisions.¬† He suggests that a ruling made on such factors may, in fact,¬†provide a “roadmap” of sorts to parties who plan to defraud the public by permitting them to construct an “objectively ascertainable” – but sham – business in a jurisdiction of their choosing.
Finally,¬†Mr. Little acknowledges that the “public policy exception” to Chapter 15 – set forth at Section 1506 of the Code – is a very narrow one, but offers the observation that to the extent it may apply in this case, the SEC’s position in the matter should be construed as US policy.
On Friday, Mr. Janvey requested leave to file a supplemental brief¬†addressing various aspects of Mr. Justice Lewison’s decision.
Though Judge Godbey has yet to provide leave to file them, Mr. Janvey’s papers echo much of the same observations made by Mr. Little.¬† They also add some of Mr. Janvey’s own, additional arguments – one of which is that Mr. Justice Lewison’s reliance on an “objectively ascertainable” standard is a unique creature of the EU Insolvency Regulation, and finds no basis either in the UK Regulations (which should have controlled Mr. Justice Lewison’s decision) or in US law.¬† In particular, Mr. Janvey argues that the Eurofoods decision – a seminal decision on COMI rendered by the European Court of Justice, and which¬†formed the primary basis for Mr. Justice Lewison’s decision¬†- imposes an unnecessary restriction on the evidence which ought to be reviewed by an American court (or, for that matter, by an English court) for this purpose.
In fact,¬†Section 1508 itself provides that in interpreting phrases such as “center of main interests,” “the court shall consider” how those phrases have been construed in other jurisdictions which have adopted similar statutes.¬† As a result, considerable ink¬†already has been spilled in the US over the EU Regulation, Eurofoods,¬†and foreign decisions generally and their interpretive effect on determing COMI in a US Chapter 15 case.¬†¬† In a recent and¬†extensive discussion of the interpretatation of “COMI”¬†as it¬†appears in Chapter 15, Judge Bruce Markell discusses both the EU Regulation and Eurofoods, and¬†observes that
a commonality of [US] cases analyzing debtors’ COMI demonstrates that courts do not apply any rigid formula or consistently find one factor dispositive; instead, courts analyze a variety of factors to discern, objectively, where a particular debtor has its principal place of business. This inquiry examines the debtor’s administration, management, and operations along with whether reasonable and ordinary third parties can discern or perceive where the debtor is conducting these various functions.
See In re Betcorp, 400 B.R. 266, 290 (Bankr. D. Nev. 2009) (emphasis supplied).
Perhaps unfortunately for Mr. Janvey, Nevada’s Judge Markell sounds a bit like London’s Mr. Justice Lewison.
Sunday, April 5th, 2009
In a series of papers – the most recent a chapter in Greg N. Gregoriou’s and Paul U. Ali’s Credit Derivatives Handbook: Global Perspectives, Innovations, and Market Drivers (McGraw-Hill 2008) – Seton Hall Professor Stephen J. Lubben has argued over the past year or so that credit default swaps (CDS’s) will change the negotiation dynamic of large Chapter 11 cases.
An understanding of Lubben’s argument requires at least a rudimentary understanding of what CDS’s are and the purpose they serve.¬† As discussed by a brief article appearing in the March 5, 2009 edition of The Economist, “[a] CDS works like a fire-insurance policy: the holder pays a regular premium, but if the house burns down there is a big payoff. With CDSs, the payoff is triggered by a default – and filing for Chapter 11 [does] indeed trigger some CDSs.”
Against this conceptual background, Lubben argues that where the holder of a CDS is better off with¬†with a default on the¬†debt underlying the swap than it is waiting for the debt to pay out, the dynamics of debtor-creditor negotiation before and during Chapter 11 will change.¬†¬†In particular:
- CDS’s could impede the negotiation of workouts, pre-arranged or pre-negotiated Chapter 11 plans, as creditors with a vested interest in¬†the debtor’s failure either refuse to negotiate or – worse yet – actively¬†seek the company’s demise.
- CDS’s may shorten the timeframe for workout negotiations or promote the increased use of involuntary¬†bankruptcy filings.¬†
In a helpful¬†post offered last month on the academically-oriented bankruptcy blog “Credit Slips,” John Marshall Law School Professor (and fellow “Credit Slips” blogger) Jason Kilborn points readers to the March 5 Economist article and suggests further that the CDS market may incentivize claims trading amongst speculators betting on the debtor’s failure:
[W]hat if high-risk investors (speculators?) buy CDS['s], banking on a corporation’s default (akin to “naked short selling” of a company’s stock)¬†[?]¬† This explosive situation comes to a head if the borrower company attempts a reorganization.¬† Now you’ve got very dedicated and often aggressive investors hoping for your failure!¬† [With] enough riding on the CDS paying out, one can easily imagine a CDS holder offering to buy a blocking position (34%) of the unsecured debt of a company attempting reorganization – which the CDS holder can probably do for a song in light of the pending reorganization (and the payout on the CDS will almost inevitably be more than a plan promises to unsecureds).¬† I’ve heard lots of grousing among judges wanting to know how certain “creditors” voting unsecured claims came to own those claims – now I understand why these judges want that info and what scary info they might find if the question is answered.¬† I presume the “not in good faith” votes of CDS holders voting down a reasonable reorg plan could be equitably subordinated or classified (rejected).¬† What a nightmare for debtor’s counsel!¬† All that work to then have your plan fail because investors with no real skin in your game tank your deal so they can collect the equivalent of hazard insurance on your failure.
Precisely how – and under just what circumstances – CDS’s will affect¬†the negotiation dynamics that for years have been a staple of reorganizations remains to be seen.¬† Lubben suggests that under some circumstances, the holders of CDSs may, in fact, still retain an interest in seeing the debtor succeed.¬† Kilborn himself points to recent developments in the case of LyondellBasell, the Dutch petrochemicals giant whose American unit, Lyondell Chemicals, commenced Chapter 11 proceedings in January: According to the March 7 Economist article, “some CDS holders want to force the debtor’s European parent to default, bringing in the complications of a cross-border reorganization.¬† That would so complicate the case that the chance of a total meltdown – and¬†a payout on the CDS – would¬†spike, so DIP lenders have ponied up just to avoid that eventuality.”
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, this formerly esoteric and little-understood corner of the bond market appears to be having a very practical, real-world effect on larger Chapter 11 cases.
Friday, January 16th, 2009
Citing a collapse of the global dry bulk markets as the precursor of an anticipated $395 million loss for FY 2008, Singapore-based bulk shipper Armada (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. sought recogniition and ancillary protection last week in the US in furtherance of a proposed scheme of arrangement commenced under Section 210 of the Singapore Companies Act.
The company’s petition for recognition under Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code highlights the destruction visited upon certain portions of the shipping industry late last year as a result of the global economic crisis.¬† According to filings made by the company concurrent with its January 7, 2009 petition filed in the Southern District of New York:
Since Summer 2008, the charter industry has faced a[n] historic drop in freight rates, particularly with respect to the very large . . . vessels that Armada Singapore charters.¬† In June, a typical charter for a Cape size vessel was $233,988 per day.¬† In early December of 2008, the market rate hit a bottom of $2,316 a day, representing a 99% drop in the market value of Armada Singapore’s contracts.
That’s quite a drop.
In larger terms, the company’s filing also offers a glimpse into some of the contrasts between the insolvency schemes and corporate rescue provisions currently prevalent in Pacific Rim jurisdictions.
Here, Armada faced significant financial difficulties in Singapore and litigation in the US.¬† In response, it petitioned for a scheme of arrangement – a procedure roughly equivalent to that of a voluntary US Chapter 11 proceeding – in Singapore.¬† Importantly for Armada, such schemes permit the¬†Singapore court overseeing the proposed arrangment ¬†to impose a moratorium on litigation against the debtor.¬† The language of the Singapore statute suggests that such relief is universal in¬†nature (“the Court may, . . . on [summary] application . . . restrain further proceedings in any action or proceeding against the company except by leave of the Court and subject to such terms as the Court imposes.”).¬†¬†Following its arrangement petition in Singapore and in furtherance of that relief, Armada sought corresponding protection in the US under Chapter 15.
By contrast, the insolvency scheme of Hong Kong – which, like Singapore, was a former British colony and which likewise retains the basic framework of English insolvency law – offers no moratorium on litigation during schemes of arrangement.¬† Such protection is available only in connection with a “winding up” – i.e., a dissolution proceeding.¬† Cf. Hong Kong Companies Act Sections 166 (governing arrangements);¬†180 (powers of court in winding up).¬† In fact, as described in a 2006 INSOL Journal article, relatively recent jurisprudence in Hong Kong has foreclosed a locally developed “work-around” for the lack of such protection.¬† According to local practitioners, these decisions effectively leave troubled companies in Hong Kong with no respite from litigation during an attempted corporate rescue.
Had Armada’s “home” jurisdiction been Hong Kong, rather than Singapore, might its efforts to protect US-based assets during its attempted reorganization require a different approach within the US (not to mention Hong Kong)?¬† Would the company’s efforts to enjoin further litigation in the US under Chapter 15 ultimately be successful¬†if no such injunction was available in its “foreign main proceeding?”
Armada’s proceeding highlights an important reality of US Chapter 15 practice: Although Chapter 15 makes certain relief “automatic” upon recognition of a foreign proceeding and further provides for interim relief while a petition for such recognition remains pending, it is frequently the law of the anticipated “foreign main proceeding” that drives tactical decisions as to whether, and how, to deploy the cross-border recognition and relief afforded by US law.
To anticipate and and offer effective cross-border guidance in such circumstances, US insolvency counsel do well to familiarize themselves with the insolvency law of the debtor’s “home” jurisdiction.