24 April 2015 – Expansión
The latest amendment to the Spanish Insolvency Act (Royal Decree-Law 11/2014, dated 5 September) has totally changed the rules of the game for investors in distressed debt.
Although it has gone relatively unnoticed amongst other novelties that have grabbed the attention of scholars (such the new cram-down majorities or the special provisions in the transmission of business units), the new rule to calculate the value of securities over the assets of insolvent companies is of great importance for the debt business.
Pursuant to this new rule, securities (basically mortgages and pledges) will no longer cover the initially agreed amounts in insolvency proceedings in those cases in which the receiver’s report had not been issued when the reform entered into force. The “privileged credit” is now capped at the (current) fair value of the collaterals, reduced by 10% to cover foreclosure expenses, minus the amount of any higher-ranking debt.
The new rule, without clear precedents in the main jurisdictions of our legal environment, has been received in some cases with suspicion and in others with shock by top foreign firms with ambitious investment projects in distressed debt. Especially by private equity funds and investment banks having set their sights on portfolios of secured debt owned by financial entities that need to “clean up” their balance sheets and reduce their exposure to the real estate sector (eg. Sareb); transactions that generally have a strong insolvency component. It is also a disincentive for the players of the incipient “direct lending” industry, the most genuine expression of the “shadow banking” phenomenon. These players are thus pushed to request additional guarantees or higher interest rates for refinancing (in a sector with a high cost of capital per se). With financial models ready and binding offers filed, such last-minute surprises are not welcome by potential new lenders. Certain City executives have baptized the amendment as the “bonkers rule” (“regla de locos”), and expressed their wishes for the Government to stop moving the goalposts during the game. As Ignacio Tirado ironized in Expansión (“Trotski y la reforma concursal”, 13 November 2014), it looks like there is a Trotskyist hiding among the Government’s ranks, because of the “permanent revolution” theory being applied to the Insolvency Act.
Leaving the pure economics and irony aside, it is shocking from a legal standpoint that a cornerstone of real estate law such as mortgage liability (with Registry publicity versus third parties) loses all effectiveness upon the filing for insolvency. We are aware that Insolvency Law is a law of exception, which requires a balancing of interests, but we do not believe that choking half a dozen basic tenets of mortgage law for the sake of the utopian “par conditio creditorum” principle (“all creditors should be treated equal”) contributes to enhance payment to creditors, or the continuity of the debtors’ business. On the contrary, it impairs the legitimate expectations of creditors to protect their claims, it contravenes the basic rules of legal certainty (Article 9.3 of the Spanish Constitution) and creates instability by giving rise to interpretative and transitory right issues.
The constant amendments to the Insolvency Law (two on average per year from its entry into force on 1 September 2004), including material changes such as the one we have analyzed, give an image of a fluctuating legal system, always a step behind economic reality, driven by the unchanged and stubborn percentage of companies that end in liquidation. No one has thought that the key could be to facilitate their recapitalization; not to put spokes in the wheels of investors.
Royal Decree-Law 11/2014, together with the so-called “second opportunity law”; RDL 1/2015, are being processed as new draft bills (“proyectos de ley”), so they are subject to new amendments. Maybe it would be a good idea to listen to the market and that legal certainty prevails over a questionable “insolvency justice”. Especially when two core objectives for economic recovery are at stake: attracting foreign capital and cleaning up banks’ balance sheets.
Original story: Expansión (by Antonio García García)