Skip to content

Mark J. Roe, The Trust Indenture Act of 1939 in Congress and the Courts in 2016: Bringing the SEC to the Table, 129 Harv. L. Rev. F. 360 (2016).

Abstract: Distressed firms with publicly issued bonds often seek to restructure the bonds’ payment terms to better reflect the firm’s weakened repayment capabilities and thereby avoid a bankruptcy. But Depression-era securities law bars the bondholders from agreeing via a binding out-of-bankruptcy vote to new payment terms, thus requiring individualized consent to the new payment terms, despite that such binding votes are commonplace now in bankruptcy and elsewhere. Recent judicial application of this securities law rule to bond recapitalizations has been more consistent than it had previously been, with courts striking down restructuring deals that twisted bondholders’ arms into consenting to unwanted deals. These coercive bond exchanges first became common in the 1980s, when many hostile tender offers for public companies had a similarly coercive deal structure. The coercive deal structure in these takeover offers was brought forward then to justify wide managerial countermeasures, but this structure disappeared in takeovers. However, it persisted in bond exchange offers. While these court decisions striking down the coercive bond exchanges faithfully apply Depression-era securities law to thwart issuers from twisting bondholders’ arms into exchanging, the bond market and distressed firms would be better served by exempting fair votes that bind all bondholders to new payment terms. The Securities and Exchange Commission now has authority to exempt fair restructuring votes from this now out-of-date securities law.