Will the Federal Government Provide Bankruptcy Financing?

One topic we’ve mentioned from time to time is the near disappearance of the debtor in possession financing market and why that is a more serious matter than its dry name might suggest.

When large companies seek to use Chapter 11, typically they are broke (duh) as in out of cash. Chapter 11 takes time, and even though creditors are held at bay, the floundering company still has to pay ongoing expenses, like payroll, if it is to keep operating, plus it also needs to pay its fancy lawyers. Enter DIP financing, which is typically senior to other debt, to pay all those bills during the Chapter 11 process.

No DIP, no Chapter 11 for a lot of companies, which means they go into liquidation (and that means more unemployment and lower recoveries on defaults). We have mentioned that those who advocate bankruptcy for GM forget that, given the dearth of DIP financing versus the size of a GM bankruptcy filing, GM would almost certainly wind up in liquidation.

John Dizard at the Financial Times says that the Treasury and Fed recognize that the dry-up of DIP financing will make the downturn worse and are about to extend financing:

The US Treasury, accompanied in some way by the Federal Reserve, is about to get into the debtor-in-possession, or DIP lending business in a big way. The debate over the auto industry bailout, conducted by Congress with the calm deliberation of a parent facing a teenager who has taken a credit card without permission, is just a preliminary round.

DIP lenders to bankrupt companies have special status and protections under the 1978 revisions to the US bankruptcy laws. As long as a bankruptcy judge finds there are sufficient unpledged assets available in the “estate”, or the balance sheet of the bankrupt, then a post-bankruptcy lender can have a priority claim on them to support new lending that keeps the company operating…

The DIP lending business has, over the years, been a good one for commercial lenders. In return for putting up fully secured financing, the lenders could earn a couple of hundred basis points over indices of costs of funds, such as prime or Libor. In addition, there were commitment fees, fees on signing, legal fees, “points” up front. As long as you had the stomach or inclination for being a hardline negotiator, it was a great business. You have junk-bond returns and court-ordered security. It does take a lot of nit-picking transaction work, and staff detailed to the counting of boxes in warehouses.

However, these days, it’s just not great enough….there just isn’t enough DIP lending capacity….

These days, those Libor plus 100 or plus 200 DIP lending rates are now up to Libor plus 500, and with all the extra fees, the real cost to the borrower can be more like Libor plus 800. That’s a little more than 10 per cent, not a bad real return. But you can buy performing loans from your broker, or even electronically in the form of an index, for something close to twice that rate. And you don’t have to count boxes in a Paterson, NJ, warehouse.

True, those performing leveraged loans don’t have “super-priority” status granted by a bankruptcy judge, which could make it more difficult to seize and liquidate collateral to claim principal and past due interest. However, once a company moves from court supervised reorganisation, or Chapter 11, to liquidation, or Chapter 7, that collateral value can disappear like spit on a hot stove.

There’s a lot of chit-chat among the partly informed financial commentators about how the US and Europe should avoid a trap such as Japan’s in the 1990s, when “zombie” companies that should have been allowed to die were kept alive, slowly dissipating the nation’s capital.

Guess what? We’re in that trap now, thanks to the lack of reorganisation capital. There are a significant number of insolvent companies that would like to file for reorganisation under Chapter 11 that cannot, since there is insufficient DIP lending capacity. They would have to go into Chapter 7 liquidation. So they bleed out the capital they could use to get a reboot.

Sean Mathis, a partner in Miller, Mathis of New York and a corporate restructuring specialist, says: “I suspect the next tsunami will come in the second quarter of next year, which is when the private equity financed companies will feel the worst effects. Many of those companies bought insurance [against economic stress] with cov-lite loans [which do not impose strict financial ratio controls]. Even so, those loans had relatively short maturities, and nobody can refinance on those terms….

As Mr Mathis says: “What got lost in the past 25 years was the lending culture of the banks, which prevented people from taking extraordinary risks that could threaten the franchise. You also lost the trained work-out people, who could deal with trouble when it came up.”….

The banks need to recreate their work-out and DIP lending groups. Fortunately, I believe there are some people available for hire to staff them. And either the Federal Reserve has to create a discounting or funding facility for DIP lending, or Congress and the Treasury need to appropriate the money. Perhaps the next secretary of the Treasury could give an honest disclosure of its purpose. Just a thought.

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  1. bg

    the US government usually does the right thing after all other options are exhausted. There is no bailout for the big 3, so there will be government sponsored DIP financing (probably bundled into a bank bailout).

    There can be no other way. GM mgt is hopeless, but the dems cannot win in 2012 after crushing 3M auto jobs. So there will be BK+govt DIP.

  2. Anonymous

    While all the talk about the lack of DIP financing is cute and all, it’s as much, if not more, a manifestation of the lack of availability for exit financing. If a company has no foreseeable exit from a bankruptcy with a logical and workable capital structure (usually involving new senior debt, revolvers, old unsecured being turned into equity, etc.) then there is not incentive to extend the DIP loan in the first place. Remember first priority still requires that the liquidation value be greater than the risk-weighted value of the DIP, which won’t always be the case.

  3. Anonymous

    There is a more serious problem with automobile bankruptcies than lack of DIP availability.

    Airlines can operate for years in Chapter 11, because there is no ongoing relationship with an airline beyond a single trip. However, buying a car is very different, because you rely on a multi-year warranty and the long-term availability of spare parts. Discontinued car brands (Oldsmobile and Plymouth) have have been shown to have significantly impaired resale value, so there’s reason to believe buyers would shun the products of a car company in Chapter 11.

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