Bankruptcy 'Double Dip'

About a year ago, I wrote a short post on an advanced distressed debt concept: the double dip.  Over the weekend I read a fantastic, and much more in depth piece on double dips at the American Bankruptcy Institute penned by Mark Kronfeld, a partner at Owl Creek Asset Management.  Mark has allowed me to repost the article here.  Strap on your seat belts - this is an amazing and highly educational post where I am positive you'll take some learning lessons away from.

The Anatomy of a Double-Dip
Mark P. Kronfeld (1)
American Bankruptcy Institute

Bankruptcy lawyers and distressed investors often loosely use the term “double-dip” to describe scenarios where a creditor can increase its recovery by multiplying its allowed claim against a particular entity or asserting claims against multiple entities (or any combination thereof). For example, a “double-dip” exists in bankruptcy, where a creditor has the benefit of a guarantee from a debtor entity (the first dip) and the primary obligor asserts an independent “incremental” claim (the second dip) against a debtor entity, which also ensures to that same creditor’s benefit. This incremental claim can arise by virtue of an intercompany loan, a fraudulent-transfer claim or even by statute. Where the incremental claim is asserted against the guarantor entity, this would give rise to a “true double-dip,” which would provide for a 2x recovery vis √† vis
the guarantor entity (capped at payment in full).

The double-dip issue has appeared in a number of recent restructurings, including Enron Corp., CIT Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., General Motors Corp., Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. and AbitibiBowater Inc. Regardless of the variety of the double-dip, the creditor’s ability to benefit from full simultaneous multiple claims and receive enhanced recoveries from the double-dip is based on a number of key legal and factual predicates.

In Diagram 1, the parent company (guarantor) creates a finance subsidiary (issuer/principal obligor) whose purpose is to issue debt and transfer the proceeds to the parent. The subsidiary is created solely for the business concerns of the parent and has no tangible assets. (2)

Assume for purposes of Diagram 1 that - as is common - the parent guarantee is a “guarantee of payment” for the full principal amount. It is therefore immediately triggered and enforceable upon the subsidiary’s default. This is in contrast to a “guarantee of collection,” which contains certain conditions precedent to enforceability. Moreover, even though guarantees often contain guarantor waivers of all rights of subrogation, indemnity and reimbursement against the principal obligor (3), assume that the guarantee in question does not have such a waiver and, in the event that the parent actually pays on the guarantee, it will have a claim for reimbursement against the subsidiary for any amounts paid under applicable state common law. (4)

Outside of bankruptcy, so long as the parent continues to pay its debts there is no issue, but on the company’s insolvency, the finance subsidiary bonds will receive the benefit of a $2 billion allowed claim against the parent—tw otimes the amount of the principal originally loaned. The result is simple math: The parent in essence is required to make two distributions to the indenture trustee for the bonds on account of the $1 billion claim: first, as a direct distribution on account of the $1 billion guarantee claim, and second, indirectly via the $1 billion intercompany claim, which flows to the subsidiary and out to the subsidiary’s creditors (again, the bonds). Put another way, because the guarantee claim and the intercompany claim of an equal amount are both allowed in full against the parent and compete with the parent’s other creditors on a pro-rata basis, bond holders receive the benefit of a $2 billion claim against the parent for a $1 billion advance.

A recent example of this occurred in Lehman Brothers.  Prior to the petition date, Lehman Brothers Treasury Co. BV (LBT), a finance subsidiary, issued more than $30 billion in notes and immediately upstreamed the proceeds to its parent, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LBHI). As in Diagram 1, the LBT notes were guaranteed by LBHI. In the subsequent insolvency proceedings, the LBT noteholders asserted a direct claim on the guaran tee against LBHI and sought to recover indirectly from LBHI on account of the intercompany claim flowing to LBT. Both claims were allowed pursuant to the plan. (5)

Why Does the Double-Dip Work
Why do the bondholders get the benefit of two claims for a single advance? First, when a primary obligor and a guarantor are liable on account of a single claim, the claimant can assert a claim for the full amount owed against each debtor until the creditor is paid in full. This is a function of applicable state law and the Bankruptcy Code, which provides that a claim must be allowed “in the amount of such claim in lawful currency of the United States as of the date of the filing of the petition.” (6) Post-petition payments by a guarantor or obligor do not reduce the claim against the other. (7) The bonds get a full $1 billion claim against the parent and the subsidiary, regardless of any partial recoveries received.

Second, absent substantive consolidation (8), subordination or recharacterization, claims resulting from unsecured intercompany loans are generally entitled to the same pro-rata distribution in bank ruptcy as every other unsecured claim. Therefore, the $1 billion intercompany claim is entitled to a distribution from the parent’s bankruptcy estate (9), which distribution flows down to the subsidiary and out its bondholders.

Third, until the underlying creditor is paid in full, the Bankruptcy Code (via §§ 502 and 509) effectively disallows and/or subordinates the guarantor’s claim for reimbursement against the principal obligor, making it impossible for the guarantor to assert a claim that competes with the recovery of the principal creditor. In the parent company/finance subsidiary structure previously discussed, the parent has a claim against the subsidiary for reimbursment to the extent it makes a payment on the guarantee, and in the example,
that claim has not been waived in the underlying documentation. Were that claim allowed against the subsidiary, it would set off against and reduce the intercompany claim. (10)

Section 502(e)(1)(b) provides that the guarantor is not entitled to an allowed claim for reimbursement against the principal obligor if such claim is “contingent” (i.e., if the guarantor has not paid on the guarantee). Moreover, even if the guarantor pays a portion of the amount due (rendering the claim no longer “contingent”), § 509(c) subordinates the claim of the guarantor until the primary creditor is paid in full (either from the debtor or from any other source). Similarly, while § 509(a) provides that a guarantor who pays a portion of the principal claim can subrogate to the claim of the original creditor (the indenture trustee for the bonds), that subrogation right is also subordinated to payment in full of the underlying creditor. Because the claim is disallowed (if contingent) and subordinated (if not contingent), it can never be set off against the intercompany claim until the bonds are paid in full.

Possible Threats
Complications relating to guaran tees may impact the double-dip, and the terms of the governing guarantee must be examined. Is it a guarantee of payment or collection? Is the guarantee joint and several? Was the guarantee (and/or intercompany transactions performed) given prior to the expiration of any applicable statutes of limitations for fraudulent conveyance? (11)

The governing law under the guarantee should also be examined, as well as the law applicable to the entire structure. The discussion above assumes application of U.S. and state law generally, but many finance subsidiaries are incorporated in foreign jurisdictions. If foreign law applies to either the guarantee or intercompany claim, the double-dip could be jeopardized. For instance, certain jurisdictions may, as a matter of law, subordinate intercompany claims.

Risks of substantive consolidation must also be analyzed because substantive consolidation, if utilized by the bankruptcy court, will eviscerate guarantees and intercompany claims. Under the doctrine of substantive consolidation, intercompany claims of the debtor companies are eliminated, the assets of all debtors are treated as common assets and claims against any of the debtors are treated as against the common fund. (12) Courts analyzing substantive consolidation disputes have considered numerous factors, including commonal- ity of ownership, directors and officers; whether subsidiaries were inadequately capitalized; the existence of separate employees and businesses; the existence of corporate formalities; commingling of assets and functions; the degree of difficulty in segregating assets and liabilities; and creditor expectations. Substantive consolidation of a U.S. entity and a foreign entity may, however, pose particular challenges.

Other factual issues need to be under stood as well. When a finance subsidiary is the issuer, the debt proceeds are typically transferred to another entity such as the parent. The means by which the transfer is made must be examined as part of the double-dip analysis. Upstream dividends and/or downstream capital infusions will generally not give rise to intercompany claims. If there is no intercompany claim, there is no double-dip.

However, to the extent any “dividends” or “capital infusions” take place within the applicable statute of limitations, they may be avoidable as a fraudulent conveyance giving rise to an intercompany claim, thereby creating a double-dip. In fact, a claim against the debtor recipient of the debt proceeds by virtue of a fraudulent conveyance may be superior to a claim arising under an intercompany loan where the fraudulent conveyance is treated as a general unsecured claim but the intercompany claim might have been deemed subordinated or recharacterized.

Moreover, even if the intercompany transfers appear as a “loan” on the intercompany ledger, its terms should be ascertained to understand any risk that the bankruptcy court might recharacter ize the intercompany transaction. (13) In particular, the rights and obligations of the counterparties to the intercompany transaction should be analyzed. In the Smurfit-Stone cross-border proceeding, the Canadian court held that although the intercompany claim upon which bondholders relied for a portion of their “double” recovery was clearly a “loan” in the general sense, it was nonetheless not a basis for a double-dip recovery because the terms of the intercompany loan stated that upon an insolvency proceeding, the “loan” would be repaid in valueless equity. (14)

Equally important is the tracing of the amount and flow of funds. Diagram 2 presents a variation on the double-dip theme. The facts are similar to those in the first scheme, but instead of transferring the $1 billion to the parent (a guarantor), the finance subsidiary has transferred the cash to a nonguarantor debtor affiliate. Although the recovery on the intercompany claim still results in distribution to the subsidiary for the benefit of bondholders, the claim is diluted by the nonguarantors’ other creditors, resulting in less than a true double-dip. Obviously, if the nonguarantor subsidiary was solvent or made a larger distribution, bondholders could recover more than 2x, but regardless, the true double dip is jeopardized when the cash flows out to a nonguarantor.

Leakage could also result if the finance subsidiary/principal obligor has additional third-party creditors (such creditors will dilute recovery on account of the principal claim against the financing subsidiary). Note that even if there are no creditors on the subsidiary balance sheet, and even if the subsidiary’s documents preclude the incurrence of additional debt, the entire capital structure needs to be understood. For example, is there a large underfunded pension, and is the pension likely to be the subject of a distress termination in bankruptcy? If so, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. may attempt to assert a claim against the subsidiary.


In any insolvency situation, nonborrower credit support carries with it the promise of additional recoveries against different obligors. Creditors with the benefit of guarantees (and investors determining what securities to buy) should carefully examine the applicable facts and law to determine whether any variety of double-dip exists it will enhance recoveries.

*Reprinted with permission from author

(1) The author would like to thank Matt Williams, a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, for his assistance in connection with this article.
(2) For instance, corporations might establish wholly owned foreign finance subsidiaries to issue non-U.S. dollar-denominated debt in order to mitigate exchange rate risk or to access diversified sources of funding or for tax benefits. Offers and sales conducted outside of the U.S. can also be structured to be exempt from the liability provisions of the U.S. Securities Act of 1933.
(3) Although § 509 allows claims for contribution, reimbursement and subrogation in certain circumstances, a pre-petition agreement can waive such rights. O’Neil v. Orix Credit Alliance (In re Northeast Contracting Co.), 187 B.R. 420, 427 (Bankr. D. Conn. 1995).
(4) See McDermott v. City of N.Y., 406 N.E.2d 460, 462 (N.Y. 1980) (“[W]here payment by one person is compelled which another should have made...a contract to reimburse or indemnify is implied in law.”).
(5) The plan ultimately provided that 20 percent of the allowed LBT guarantee claim would be reallocated to other classes of creditors in connection with resolution of a dispute over substantive consolidation.
(6) 11 U.S.C. § 502(b).
(7) In re Gessin, 668 F.2d 1105, 1107 (9th Cir. 1982) (creditor’s claim against guarantor not reduced by amount received from principal debtor).
(8) Courts generally, and absent certain exceptions, respect corporate formalities and the separateness of related or affiliated corporate entities.
(9) Because the claims are held by two separate entities, the intercompany claim and the guarantee claim should arguably be recognized as distinct, allowable claims. See, e.g., Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Delta Air Lines Inc. (In re Delta Air Lines Inc.), 608 F.3d 139 (2d Cir. 2010) (holding that claims of two creditors related to same underlying facts were not duplicative because claims arose pursuant to separate legal obligations and total recovery would not exceed 100 percent).
(10) A subrogee under § 509 is entitled to assert § 553 setoff rights for post-petition payments on a pre-petition guarantee. In re Jones Truck Lines Inc. v. Target Stores, 196 B.R. 123, 129 (Bankr. W.D. Ark. 1996).
(11) Pursuant to federal and applicable state law, guarantees can be avoided as constructive fraudulent conveyances if the guarantor was insolvent or rendered insolvent at the time it issued the guarantee and did not receive reasonably equivalent value in exchange for issuing the guarantee. 11 U.S.C §§ 544(b) and 548.
(12) In re Augie/Restivo Baking Co. Ltd., 860 F.2d 515, 518 (2d Cir. 1988).
(13) The bankruptcy court will attempt “to discern whether the parties called an instrument one thing when in fact they intended it as something else.” Cohen v. KB Mezzanine Fund II LP (In re SubMicron Sys. Corp.), 291 B.R. 314, 323 (D. Del. 2003), aff’d, 432 F.3d 448 (3d Cir. 2006).
(14) In re Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Case No. 09-10235 (BLS) (Bankr. D. Del. Feb. 4, 2010) [Docket No. 4735]. It has been asserted that where the principal obligor is a Canadian unlimited liability company (ULC), § 135 of the Nova Scotia Act Representing Joint Stock Companies may provide for an independent claim against the ULC’s parent entity. The nature of the § 135 claim and the “triple-dip” scenario is beyond the scope of this article.



hunter [at] distressed-debt-investing [dot] com

About Me

I have spent the majority of my career as a value investor. For the past 8 years, I have worked on the buy side as a distressed debt and high yield investor.