The essential task of bankruptcy and restructuring lawyers is to avoid a client’s bankruptcy. The term ‘bankruptcy’ itself is a technical term that refers to when financially distressed companies, unable to restructure on their own, file for Chapter 11 to undergo a court-supervised restructuring. In order to avoid this scenario, a company must successfully “restructure its debt to keep the company together and retain its value,” But the path to financial viability through court or not can be convoluted. The legal know-how required and the multitude and variety of actors involved make bankruptcy and restructuring a rather complex practice. Bankruptcy and restructuring attorneys must be adept at transactional work and litigation across a range of areas like M&A, securities, banking, labor and employment, environment, tax and IP.
What Bankruptcy Lawyers Do For You
• Analyze the situation in order to determine the feasibility of staying out of bankruptcy. What’s the problem? What caused it? How big is it? Will it result in a default that is uncontrollable? Who’s in the creditor body? Are they secured or unsecured? What’s the litigation status? What’s the liquidity status? Are there sufficient funds to stay in business while being restructured?
• Look for ‘red flags’, such as jurisdiction. “You need to know if the entity has international operations, how it operates, how it’s interconnected”.
• Work with financial advisers to create a model of how the crisis will be dealt with.
• Try to persuade creditors to “just stand still” and not pursue immediate payback. “You need to focus on the nature of the debt in order to determine who you approach to get a standstill or moratorium”.
• Negotiate with creditors and try convincing them that the problem is best solved out of bankruptcy.
• If negotiations are successful, work out payment plans for each creditor.
• If not successful, file for Chapter 11.
Court-supervised restructuring for debtor
• Initiate a Chapter 11 case to pursue restructuring within the protective provisions of the Bankruptcy Code (usually known as ‘filing for Chapter 11’).
• Prevent stigmatization of employees and business operations. Create a detailed communication plan to include regulators, shareholders, employees, vendors and clients. “Entry into Chapter 11 should be made as smooth and unruffled as possible.”
• Secure financing.
• Once liquidity is secured, work with the management team and financial advisers to decide what’s core and non-core to the business. Establish the company’s new vision.
• Build creditor consensus around the chosen exit strategy. This can be a lengthy process and require delicate negotiations.
• If creditors think they are being economically harmed, there could be extensive litigation.
• Document and effectuate the eventual agreement.
The Four Reorganization Bankruptcy Chapters
Debtors choose to reorganize under either Chapter 9, 11, 12, or 13, depending on the particular circumstances. An overview of each appears according to filing frequency.
Chapter 13: Individuals and Couples
This chapter allows single and married people (but not businesses, other than sole proprietors) to pay discretionary income (the amount remaining after paying living expenses) into a plan for three to five years. If your family income is above the average for your state (called the median income), your plan will be 60 months long. When income falls below the median, 36 payments are required, but you can propose a plan that spreads out what you need to pay over 60 months, if necessary.
How Debts Get Paid During the Plan Period
Bankruptcy law assigns a higher priority to some debts and requires the filer to pay them fully over the course of a three to five year plan. Examples of priority claims include the following:
• recent income tax debts
• past due child support and alimony payments, and
• overdue payments on secured debts like house notes (you don’t have to pay off the entire mortgage within the plan, however).
Most of your other debts like credit cards and medical bills will fall into the category of general unsecured debts and won’t necessarily be paid anything. They’ll receive something only if you have disposable income after all your higher priority claims get paid. Even then, the unsecured claims might be paid pennies on the dollar. The remaining debt gets discharged at the end of the case. Another interesting feature of a Chapter 13 plan is its ability to cram down (reduce) a secured debt (other than the mortgage on your residence or a recently purchased vehicle). If the collateral (the property securing the debt) is worth less than what you owe, you can propose to pay just the value of the asset plus interest at one or two points above prime. For high-interest loans that are under water, this can save you thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, not all secured loans are subject to cram down. It’s not available for the mortgage on your residence or on car loans that are less than two and one-half years old when you file your case. Also, you must be able to pay off the entire cram down amount over the course of the plan, something many people aren’t able to do for high-value property, such as vacation rentals.
Chapter 11: Businesses and Individuals
Chapter 11 bankruptcy is best known for helping prevent large corporations from closing their doors. Because of the expense involved in filing a Chapter 11 case, it’s used by small businesses to a lesser extent, and, on a rare occasion, by individuals whose debt balances exceed the Chapter 13 debt limitations. In many Chapter 11 cases, creditors actively work with the debtor to evaluate the debtor’s financial health and determine the best way to tackle the debtor’s debt. This collaboration will include more than renegotiating loan terms, although that accounts for an important part of the plan. During the first months of a Chapter 11 case, the parties look carefully at many aspects of the business. Decisions might be made to do one or more of the following:
• change leadership
• sell underperforming assets, or
• reorganize operations to make them more efficient.
The debtor then proposes a plan for paying its debts. A Chapter 11 plan must be approved not only by the bankruptcy court but by the creditors owed the most money. If a debtor fails to propose a confirmable plan, a creditor (or the trustee, if one has been appointed), can offer a plan that will be submitted to the creditor body for a vote. Once a plan is confirmed, the debtor can spend years carrying out its terms.
Chapter 12: Farms and Fishing Operations
If your primary business is farming or fishing, you’ll likely choose to file for Chapter 12 bankruptcy. The procedural aspects of Chapter 12 and Chapter 13 cases are similar; however, Chapter 12 bankruptcy provides more flexibility because it allows for the seasonal nature of the farming and fishing industries. The Chapter 12 debtor has 90 days after filing the case to propose a plan lasting from three to five years. Instead of making monthly payments as required by Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the Chapter 12 plan can allow for seasonal payments. The plan can also provide for a cram down of virtually any secured debt, including homes and farmland, and allow for the modified secured debt payments to extend beyond the five-year plan limit.
Chapter 9: Municipalities (Cities and Governments)
Chapter 9 bankruptcy is reserved exclusively for municipalities and governmental units like utilities and taxing districts. The plan and the plan approval process in Chapter 9 bankruptcy are similar to Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creditors in Chapter 9 are not allowed to propose a plan, but taxpayers and creditors can file a plan objection.
Reasons Behind Restructuring
The overarching goal of a restructuring is to increase shareholder value but there are many reasons behind restructuring.
• Focusing on Core Business: Groups of shareholders can actively demand management to increase shareholder value by focusing on the private company’s core businesses. Pressure from shareholders can cause management to create a restructuring plan that will focus the private company’s resources on core businesses.
• Eliminating Poor Performers: Poor performance of a subsidiary due to industry conditions, poor management, or ineffective corporate strategy can be detrimental to the financial performance of the parent private company. Therefore, a parent private company commonly divests the poorly performing subsidiary. This may immediately improve the financials of the parent private company by not including the poorly performing financials of the divested subsidiary in the consolidated statements. As a result the parent private company might eliminate capital outflows that were needed to fund the failing business. Additionally, a divestiture of a failing business will provide additional capital the parent private company can use to stimulate growth in its core businesses. Finally a divestiture, if communicated correctly, will boost morale of existing employees and improve the public perception of the parent private company.
• Highlighting Undervalued Assets: Large private companies may have smaller subsidiaries that are high growth or strong performing private companies that may not be properly valued since their performance is hidden by the size of the conglomerate. In such a case, the parent private company may want to divest a part or all of the strong performing private company via a sale, spin-off, split-off or equity carve-out. Highlighting the positive attributes of the undervalued business is a benefit to both the shareholders of the parent and the divested private company. Divesting the smaller private company allows it to raise their own capital via debt and equity markets that is separate from that of the parent private company. By using their own cost of capital, the divested private company doesn’t need to vie for capital allocation from the parent private company. Additionally, the divested private company can be properly valued by the market based on its respective multiples. Furthermore, the parent private company receives proceeds from the divestiture that it can reinvest or issue to shareholders.
• Realizing Value from Stronger Business: Where strong performing businesses are not valued by the market, there is an opportunity for the parent private company to realize the value of this business through a sale or divestiture. Proceeds from this sale can be used to develop other parts of the private company’s businesses or pay down debt.
• Realigning of Capital Allocation: A private company with multiple business units, funding and capital allocation issues restrains optimal operations of its subsidiaries. There are often internal conflicts as management teams vie for capital from the parent private company. This leads to potentially inefficient allocation of capital where certain businesses will have excess capital while others will be under funded. Inefficient capital allocation restrains the growth of subsidiary private companies. In such a case, separation of the different business lines allows each newly divested private company to raise capital to service their needs.
• Avoiding Takeovers: Restructurings have been used to avoid takeovers. Selling or spinning off a key business unit can be an effective deterrent for takeovers since acquirers will have to pay capital gains tax on spin-offs of the target private company that were initially tax-free. Increasing leverage can also help defend against takeovers, but the effect on operating flexibility must also be taken into account.
• Lowering Borrowing Costs and Optimizing Capital Structure: Different operating divisions of a larger corporation have different operating risks and capital requirements that may overshadow each other. In such cases the parent private company may find itself over leveraged. One of the main goals of restructuring would be to reorganize the capital structure of the private company to lower borrowing costs. The capital structure of a private company should always strive to optimize funding costs. The goal is to balance between the high costs of equity and the lower costs of debt and the benefits and detriments of both methods of funding. Funding operations through debt issuances can lead to financial distress as the interest expense to service the loan can consume cash flow. Divesting a business division is a great way for a private company to improve its financial position.
• Providing Management Incentives: Management teams of a subsidiary often operate off the incentives based on the performance of the parent private company as a whole. Stock option plans that are given to executive level management teams of subsidiaries that are based off the stock performance of the parent private company are not always appealing if the operating activities of the subsidiary are not properly valued by the market. Separating the subsidiary from the parent creates lucrative invectives for management whose compensation is now directly based on their division’s performance.
• Pre-IPO Housecleaning Process: Prior to the initial filing of an S-1, firms that intend or explore the option of going public must enter a restructuring process. This pre-IPO restructuring process is known as the “House Cleaning” process and is done to ensure that the firm is SEC and compliant in terms of accounting, compensation, contractual agreements, corporate structure, and tax-related considerations. This process will begin with a combination of marketing/public relations and auditing processes and may prove quite costly, especially in combination with SEC filing fees. The time between the initial S-1 filing and the first day of trading, the firm must report as if it were a publicly traded firm each quarter. For firms that are unable to quickly achieve compliance, this may prove quite costly and often will result in an IPO withdrawal filing.
Methods to Assess Forms of Restructuring
There are two basic forms of restructuring: financial and transactional. A financial restructuring usually takes place when the operating performance of a private company is doing well but the capital structure needs improvement. Transactional restructuring takes place when there is a need to reconfigure both the operating effectiveness and the capital structure of a private company. Many times financial and transactional restructurings can occur simultaneously.
• Tax Basis in Different Businesses: Tax basis is one of the most important considerations in a restructuring process. In a situation where the tax basis is high the parent private company may consider a taxable direct sale of the asset where as when the tax basis is low there parent private company may consider a tax-free alternative such as a spin-off or a split-off.
• Break-Up Valuation: Before deciding on a type of divestiture, a parent private company should perform a break-up valuation to determine the extent to which a subsidiary is under or over-valued. The break-up valuation will determine which type of divestiture will be most appropriate.
• Leverage: If the parent private company is over-leveraged, it may force the parent private company to sell certain assets where as on the other hand if the parent private company is underleveraged it may wish to pay a special dividend to shareholders or take on additional debt.
• Operating Performance: The operating performance of the parent private company is the summation of the performance of its individual subsidiaries. The parent private company may wish to divest poorly performing divisions in an effort to optimize operating efficiency or divest strong but undervalued business units to realize their true value.
• Private Company Makeup: The corporate culture and overall structure and strategy of a private company may occasionally differ from its subsidiaries. It may be necessary to divest business divisions whose operations or goals conflict with overall strategic direction of the parent.
• Threat of Takeover: A parent private company may consider restructuring to defend against a threat of hostile take-over. The type of threat will determine the restructuring options available to the targeted private company. If the acquiring private company plans to use the excess cash of the targeted private company to help finance the acquisition the targeted private company may pay out a special dividend to shareholders thereby reducing the ability of the acquirer to complete the acquisition. On the other hand if a the acquiring private company is targeting specific assets of a private company the targeted private company may choose to divest those assets to realize their value on the open market thereby foiling the efforts of the acquirer.
Bankruptcy Lawyer Free Consultation
When you need legal help with a restructuring bankruptcy, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
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