Unitranche financing began as a middle-market product, tracing its origins to the days of recovery from the global credit crisis. The credit markets re-opened with an explosion of available capital from traditional lenders, business development companies and other direct lenders. With an increasing supply of capital, leverage shifted to borrowers and private equity, allowing them to better dictate the terms and conditions of their loan facilities. With the greater prevalence of so-called “covenant-lite” loans, also came the exponential growth of the unitranche market. What began as a financing structure most often used for loans of less than $50 million, unitranche loans are now regularly used for financings exceeding $1 billion, and in 2021, up to $3 billion. A unitranche facility combines the benefits of multi-tranche debt regularly found in the syndicated lending markets (i.e., the ability to raise funds from lenders with different risk profiles and return expectations), with those of speed and certainty that are a hallmark of the private lending community. In its simplest form, unitranche facilities are structured using a single-tier, combing the senior and junior components of syndicated loans into one loan. Whereas a syndicated loan may require distinct grants of senior and junior liens on collateral to multiple lending groups, a unitranche uses a single lien to secure the entire facility. The benefits to the borrower are obvious: it is faced with a single term loan: one set of principal and interest payments, a single package of covenants to monitor, and a uniform list of defaults to avoid. Layering on the advantage of a single agent, a unitranche facility greatly streamlines loan administration from the borrower’s perspective.Continue Reading The Continued Growth of Unitranche Financing
Late last week, the District Court for the Southern District of New York provided a reminder of the importance of precise drafting. In Transform Holdco LLC v. Sears Holdings Corp. et. al., CV-05782, Doc. 20, the contractual question at issue related to the purchase of substantially all of the assets (and assumption of certain of the liabilities) of Sears and its domestic and foreign subsidiaries by Transform Holdco LLC (“Transform”) in Sears’ bankruptcy case. Typical of a sale under Section 363 of the Bankruptcy Code, Transform’s purchase was largely structured as an asset sale, allowing it to acquire those assets “free and clear” of liens and encumbrances. Also typical, certain assets were excluded from the sale, including cash and cash equivalents of the US and foreign entities, defined in the purchase agreement as “Excluded Assets.” Following execution of the agreement, the parties entered into an amendment which allowed Transform some flexibility regarding its purchase of the assets of Sears’ foreign subsidiaries. Because the transfer of the foreign assets might be problematic, Transform was granted an option to instead acquire the equity of those subsidiaries. The amendment provided that, if Transform “determines (in its sole discretion)… that it is necessary or desirable to acquire all of the equity interests in any Foreign Subsidiary in lieu of the acquisition of assets and assumption of liabilities…, then the [s]ellers shall use reasonable best efforts to transfer such equity interests, which equity interests shall be deemed to be Acquired Foreign Assets.” (emphasis added). The agreements were governed by Delaware law.
The financing of commercial litigation has grown enormously since it first appeared on the scene in the US, about 15 years ago. While still small relative to the overall US financial market, it is estimated that more than $11 billion has been invested in litigation finance in the US last year alone. In essence, lenders (often referred to as “funders”) provide commercial claimants and contingency law firms with the capital needed to prosecute legal claims which the funders believe have a strong likelihood of success. Funders receive a return based upon, and typically conditioned upon, a successful conclusion of the litigation. The use of litigation funding by bankruptcy practitioners is a growing phenomenon and one that we see as an increasingly important element in how bankruptcy-related litigation is managed.
Backstop commitments have become commonplace in large corporate bankruptcy cases – they provide certainty to the debtor that it will have the funds needed to satisfy its obligations to creditors under its plan of reorganization and that it will have liquidity to operate post-bankruptcy as the reorganized entity. Backstop commitments are also a way for certain creditors to generate some additional return in the form of commitment fees and expense reimbursements in exchange for their agreement to backstop all or a material portion of a proposed rights offering or other financing arrangement. Typically, the opportunity to participate as a backstop provider is not offered to all creditors in a class but is rather limited to those having large claims – often members of an ad hoc group that have the leverage to negotiate for such treatment, and most importantly, the financial wherewithal to perform. For that reason, the fees associated with backstop commitments are sometimes controversial, criticized by those not participating as an unnecessary expense paid by a debtor to a preferred group of creditors in exchange for their support and/or violative of Section 1124(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code which requires generally that similarly situated creditors receives the same treatment.
Considerations of “environmental, social and governance” (or ESG) criteria with respect to a company’s management and operations continue to take on greater importance in lenders’ and investors’ credit and investment decisions. How a borrower or a target company measures up to these ever-developing ESG standards will impact its cost of capital and value to potential investors and acquirors. While it remains difficult to predict how the perception of a company’s ESG performance (or even its rating) may impact its capital-raising efforts or its likelihood of success or failure, a number of trends seem inevitable.
Foreign companies seeking to protect their overseas assets from their creditors have often turned to the United States for immediate relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. Establishing jurisdiction in the US for purposes of a bankruptcy filing has proved easy – the establishment of a nominal professional fees retainer with a local law firm on the eve of a bankruptcy filing will suffice. Upon such a filing, the automatic stay under Section 362 of the Bankruptcy Code goes into global effect, shielding a foreign debtor’s assets, wherever they may be located, from creditors’ recovery actions and litigation. At times, that relief may be short-lived. An aggrieved creditor may challenge a bankruptcy filing as having been made in “bad faith”, seeking to dismiss a pending bankruptcy proceeding that it believes was designed for the sole purpose of frustrating the exercise of its creditor rights and remedies and for which US jurisdiction was manufactured.
The merchant cash advance (“MCA”) industry recently provided two different bankruptcy courts with an opportunity to consider the characterization of MCA funding transactions as either “true sales” of receivables or “disguised loans”.  MCA funders typically provide cash to a financially distressed company in exchange for a percentage of that company’s future receivables collection. Companies in need of liquidity will often seek to monetize their receivables, either by selling them (i.e., a true sale) or using them as collateral for a loan (i.e., a secured loan). Recognizing the benefits of having an ownership interest in such assets in case of a counterparty’s bankruptcy, MCA funders typically attempt to structure their transactions as “purchases” of a company’s future receivables. For that same reason, a bankruptcy trustee or a debtor-in-possession will often argue that these transactions are really “disguised loans” and that the MCA funder is only a secured creditor of the bankruptcy estate that owns the receivable.
Earlier this year, Mexican airline, Grupo Aeromexico, S.A.B. de C.V. (together with its affiliates, the “Debtors”) announced that their creditor body had overwhelmingly voted to approve their proposed Chapter 11 restructuring plan (the “Plan”) save for one class of unsecured creditor claims that voted to reject the Plan. Those claims were held by Invictus Global Management, LLC (“Invictus”), a distressed investment fund that recently purchased the claims subject to a “plan support provision” which purportedly compelled the claimholder to support the Debtors’ Plan. Invictus nonetheless voted against the Plan which threatened to hold-up confirmation and force an expensive trial relating to whether the Debtors are able to satisfy the “cram-down” provisions of the Bankruptcy Code.
The practice of granting third party releases in bankruptcy was recently dealt another blow by the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In Patterson et. al. v. Mahwah Bergen Retail Group, Inc., Civil No. 3:21cv167 (DJN), the District Court found that the lower bankruptcy court lacked the constitutional authority to both rule on certain of the claims covered by the third-party releases at issue and, it follows, to confirm the debtors’ plan of reorganization. The District Court went so far as to sever the third-party releases from the plan, vacating the plan and remanding the matter for consideration of the plan without the releases. But the District Court didn’t stop there. The District Court further ordered that the case be reassigned to a different bankruptcy judge in a different regional division (that is not known for consistently granting third-party releases), adding that the Chief Judge could “assign it to himself if he believes the interests of justice so warrant.” Doc. 79 at 86.
The Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware recently expressed its view regarding the reach of the “solvent debtor exception” in In re The Hertz Corp., et al. The solvent debtor exception is an equitable doctrine which supports the proposition that creditors are entitled to the full suite of their contractual rights if the debtor in bankruptcy is solvent. Notably, the doctrine has been advanced to support the argument that solvent debtors are required to pay post-petition interest owed to unsecured creditors at the contract rate of interest, including in some instances, the default rate.