NEWS AND ANALYSIS
ANALYSIS: CRITICS OF DETROIT'S BANKRUPTCY HAVEN'T OFFERED UP ALTERNATIVES
Objections to Detroit’s historic chapter 9 bankruptcy have been coming from the usual suspects. But none of them offers to change the fundamental reality facing America’s poorest major city, according to an analysis in The Detroit News on Tuesday. They can’t. Detroit’s government is insolvent and managerially spent, facts unaltered by complaints that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and his team failed to bargain in good faith. One month into the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, it is clear that this won’t be a quick-rinse job akin to the General Motors Corp. or Chrysler LLC bankruptcies but it is moving along nonetheless. The precedent-setting legal fight’s outcome could have a profound impact on unions, pension funds and the municipal finance market. The stakes are enormous, and financial creditors, unions, pension funds, retirees and ordinary citizens are objecting to Detroit’s bankruptcy filing because there are few opportunities otherwise to do so. Should U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes accept the objections following an eligibility trial scheduled to begin Oct. 23, Orr, the city and their sponsors in Lansing would be back at square one with no Plan B. But experts say that Detroit’s case is progressing relatively rapidly. "For a case of this size think about how complex it is it’s moving quickly," says Douglas Bernstein, managing partner of Plunkett Cooney’s banking, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights practice group in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Judge Rhodes is "way quicker than any of the others" in Alabama, California and Rhode Island, "and he’s got the biggest case of them all," Bernstein said. Click here to read the full analysis.
INVESTORS ARE SELLING MUNICIPAL BONDS AGAIN
Municipal bonds usually don’t get much attention unless something’s wrong, but they’re getting attention now, the Associated Press reported today. Investors have been running away from bonds issued by state and local governments for several months, even though they offer tax-free income. The worries began when interest rates started to rise in the spring and heightened after Detroit became the biggest city in the country ever to file for bankruptcy. The selloff is reminiscent of one that smacked municipal bonds in late 2010 and early 2011, following a prediction that a wave of defaults would hit the market. But now, like then, managers of municipal-bond mutual funds say that the worries have created a buying opportunity. Investors who bought in late 2010 did well: The average intermediate-term municipal bond fund returned 9 percent in 2011. Managers say such big gains aren’t likely this year, but long-term municipal bonds can offer tax-free yields of 5 percent and have the potential to increase in price if interest rates don’t take off, says John Miller, co-head of global fixed income for Nuveen Investments. Nearly every municipal bond mutual fund has lost money over the last three months. For a rebound in the municipal bond market to happen, it needs to snap out of the self-feeding selling cycle that has overtaken it. Click here to read the full article.
BANKRUPTCY, EVEN FOR DETROIT, COMES WITH A COST
As if Detroit doesn’t have enough money problems, now the cash-strapped city faces a huge bill from its bankruptcy lawyers which, according to a Marketplace.org report today, begs the question: Is bankruptcy worth it? For example, Lehman Brothers’s bankruptcy fees topped $2 billion. "It can get very expensive," says Prof. David Skeel of the University of Pennsylvania. He says plenty of bankruptcies cost millions of dollars these days. One reason is that no one wants to speak up. "Nobody that’s in the case wants to rat on somebody else and say, ‘Your fees are way too high,’" he says. Over the past 10 years, Skeel says more companies have decided to fold rather than deal with bankruptcy costs. But there’s also more oversight now, especially since the Department of Justice updated its fee guidelines to make bankruptcy fees more transparent. "I’ll call up the professional and say, ‘Tell me why you made this choice,’" says Prof. Nancy Rapoport of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has been a fee examiner. "Sometimes it’s a great choice. Sometimes we talk about a reduction in fees." Oversight, she says, is essential. "If reasonable fees aren’t being charged, then something is wrong with the system," she says. Click here to read the full article.
In related news, ABI held a webinar on Tuesday about the new U.S. Trustee Fee Guidelines, which will affect all attorneys and firms who work on larger chapter 11 cases filed on or after Nov. 1. Presented by ABI’s Ethics & Professional Compensation Committee, a panel of experts, including Clifford J. White, the director of the U.S. Trustee Program, discussed some of the ways that the new guidelines could change day-to-day operations in firms, issues relating to the new market rate benchmarks, and how these changes might alter insolvency practice. Click here to download a recording of the webinar.
CREDIT CARD DEBT IS FALLING, BUT STILL VERY HIGH
Consumer credit card debt in the U.S. has been edging down in recent years after peaking in July 2008 at $1 trillion (about the size of Mexico's annual GDP), IB Times reported yesterday. According to data from the Federal Reserve, as of July 2013 the average indebted household in the U.S. carries average credit card debt of $15,325, although that figure is somewhat skewed by a small number of extraordinarily debt-stricken families and couples. But that average credit card balance pales in comparison with average mortgage debt ($147,924) and average student loan debt ($32,041). On the whole, American consumers currently owe an aggregate of $856.5 billion in credit card debt. This figure has been falling since the height of the global financial crisis not just because some debtors are paying off their balances, but also due to rising defaults as credit card companies and banks simply wrote off seriously delinquent debts, a phenomenon that coincided with soaring unemployment and personal bankruptcies. Thus, credit card balances are falling for both good and bad reasons. "Overall, consumers have been much more cautious about spending on credit since the recession; they discovered what overleveraging can do when the economy is struggling," said Leslie Levesque, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. Click here to read the full article.
BILL ON BANKRUPTCY VIDEO: AFSCME SAYS BANKRUPTCY LAW UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The AFSCME labor union is opposing the Detroit bankruptcy by contending that the entire municipal bankruptcy scheme violates the U.S. Constitution, as Bloomberg Law's Lee Pacchia and Bloomberg News bankruptcy columnist Bill Rochelle discuss in their new video. Again this week, Rochelle and Pacchia cover the American Airlines bankruptcy, this time focusing on whether parent AMR Corp. can persuade the bankruptcy judge to approve the reorganization plan before there's resolution to the government's antitrust suit. Rochelle also mentions the newest statistics showing no increase in business for bankruptcy professionals. The video ends with discussion of an important new decision from the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta adopting a new theory for taking assets outside of a bankrupt estate. Click here to watch the video.
ABI GOLF TOUR UNDERWAY; LAST STOP FOR 2013 IS WINTER LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE IN DECEMBER
The 7th and final stop for the 2013 ABI Golf Tour is on Dec. 5 at the Trump National Golf Club, held in conjunction with ABI’s Winter Leadership Conference. Final scoring to win the Great American Cup sponsored by Great American Group is based on your top three scores from the seven ABI events. See the Tour page for details and course descriptions. The ABI Golf Tour combines networking with fun competition, as golfers "play their own ball." Including your handicap means everyone has an equal chance to compete for the glory of being crowned ABI's top golfer of 2013! A 22-handicapper won the tour event at July’s Southeast Bankruptcy Workshop. There's no charge to register or participate in the Tour.
ABI’S VOLO PROJECT POSTS 1,000TH CIRCUIT COURT OPINION: PATRIOT COAL CORP. V. PEABODY HOLDING CO. (IN RE PATRIOT COAL CORP.; 8TH CIR.)
ABI now hosts more than 1,000 circuit court opinion summaries on its circuit court first-responder site, volo.abi.org. Appellate opinions are summarized within 24 hours of being issued and are then posted by a team of editors, led by Scott F. Gautier (Peitzman Weg LLP; Los Angeles). Opinion summaries also include links to the full text of each opinion.
Reversing the decision of the bankruptcy court, in Patriot Coal Corp. v. Peabody Holding Co. (In re Patriot Coal Corp.), Case No. 13-6031 (B.A.P. 8th Cir. Aug. 21, 2013), the Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel held that Peabody Holding must continue to pay health care benefits for certain retired miners and dependents who worked for Heritage Coal Co., a Peabody subsidiary that was transferred to Patriot Coal in 2007.
Click here regularly to view the latest case summaries on ABI’s Volo website.
NEW ON ABI’S BANKRUPTCY BLOG EXCHANGE: TAX REFORM PROPOSAL BACKS CREDIT UNIONS INTO A CORNER
The Bankruptcy Blog Exchange is a free ABI service that tracks 35 bankruptcy-related blogs. A recent blog post explains how credit unions’ advocating to keep their tax-exempt status alive merely pass tax increases along to American businesses.
Be sure to check the site several times each day; any time a contributing blog posts a new story, a link to the story will appear on the top. If you have a blog that deals with bankruptcy, or know of a good blog that should be part of the Bankruptcy Exchange, please contact the ABI Web team.
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