BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research sent me two recent reports its analysts put together on the drawn-out Chapter 9 bankruptcy of Vallejo, Calif., which Tim White wrote about yesterday here on WPRI.com. “Vallejo does not make municipal bankruptcy look appealing,” BofA Merrill’s John Hallacy writes.
A judge approved Vallejo’s second attempt at a bankruptcy exit plan just last week, “following a very significant degree of ongoing negotiations and a degree of litigation activity,” according to Hallacy. Before that, though, Vallejo’s creditors had to vote to approve the plan:
For the Plan to be approved by the court, only one Class of impaired claims needs to approve the Plan. There are seven Classes that are eligible to vote on the Plan …. Under the requirements pertaining to each individual Class, for an affirmative vote to be valid, either one half in numbers of the claims in the Class must approve, or two-thirds of the amounts associated with the claims in the Class must vote in the affirmative.
In the event of outright rejection, the court may pursue approval of the plan through a “cram-down” that is provided for under the Code. Such a cram-down would need to be, at a minimum, fair and equitable and may not discriminate “unfairly.”
That actually seems like it could be a relatively low bar to get a bankruptcy exit plan approved – half the people or two-thirds of the claims from just one out of seven classes of creditors? It raises the question, too, of how many classes of creditors there will be in Central Falls. Off the top of my head, the groups I can think of are the retirees, the current workers, the unsecured creditors and the (apparently protected) bondholders. I don’t know enough about bankruptcy law to say how they would be broken up into classes, though.
Here’s another interesting section of the BofA report (emphasis mine):
Municipal market participants have been correct in their assumptions that [bond] haircuts would be unavoidable in this case. On the other hand, renegotiated collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and the existing obligations to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) for pension payments will continue to be honored. The [exit] Plan maintains that the City was able to save some $34 million through June 30, 2010, by renegotiating existing CBAs. Purportedly, the main rationale for filing [for bankruptcy in Vallejo] was to start anew in these two functional areas. In fairness, some of the CBAs have been changed; but the CalPERS obligations are essentially the same as what had existed prior to the filing.
That makes Vallejo a very different situation from Central Falls. There, bondholders took a haircut; here, the General Assembly has moved to protect them from losses. More importantly, if Central Falls’ $80 million in pension and retiree health obligations remain “essentially the same” when its bankruptcy case is done, it’s hard to see what the point was – those are the liabilities that officials say are weighing down the city most.
Receiver Robert Flanders says he wants Central Falls out of bankruptcy within six months, and plans to file a restructuring plan with the judge by the end of this month. But when you look at Vallejo, it’s easy to see how the case could drag on far longer.
Speaking of Flanders, he will be the guest on this weekend’s edition of WPRI 12′s “Newsmakers.” The show airs at 10 a.m. Sunday on Fox Providence.
(photo: Associated Press/Eric Risberg)