Treatment of a Hedge Fund’s Claims Against and Other Exposures To a Covered Financial Company Under the Orderly Liquidation Authority Created by the Dodd-Frank Act

On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”), heralded as the most significant new financial regulation since the Great Depression.  Title II of the Dodd-Frank Act creates a framework to prevent the potential meltdown of systemically important U.S. financial businesses.  This framework includes a new federal receivership procedure, the so-called orderly liquidation authority (“OLA”), for significant, interconnected non-bank financial companies whose unmanaged collapse could jeopardize the national economy.  The OLA will form part of a new regulatory framework intended to improve economic stability, mitigate systemic risk, and end the practice of taxpayer-financed “bailouts.”  The OLA generally is modeled on the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (“FDIA”), which deals with insured bank insolvencies, and also borrows from the Bankruptcy Code.  Notwithstanding the enactment of Title II, there will be a heavy presumption that companies that otherwise qualify for protection under the Bankruptcy Code will be reorganized or liquidated through a traditional bankruptcy case.  If, however, an institution is deemed to warrant the special procedures under the OLA, Title II will apply, even if a bankruptcy case is then pending for such institution.  As discussed in this article, the decision of whether to invoke Title II will be made outside the public view.  As a result, hedge funds that have claims and other exposures to financial companies may find the playing field shifting overnight from the relatively predictable confines of the Bankruptcy Code to the novel and untested framework of the OLA.  In a guest article, Solomon J. Noh, a Senior Associate in the Bankruptcy & Reorganization Group at Shearman & Sterling LLP, provides a high-level discussion of how the following types of claims and exposures would be handled in a receivership governed by Title II based on the regulatory rules currently proposed or in effect: (i) secured claims; (ii) general unsecured claims (such as a claim arising out of unsecured bond debt); (iii) contingent claims (such as a claim relating to a guaranty); (iv) revolving lines of credit and other open commitments to fund; and (v) “qualified financial contracts” (i.e., swap agreements, forward contracts, commodity contracts, securities contracts and repurchase agreements).  Hedge funds employing a variety of strategies – notably, but not exclusively, distressed debt – routinely acquire the foregoing categories of claims and exposures.  For situations in which those claims or exposures face a firm that may be designated as systemically important, this article highlights the principal legal considerations that will inform any investment decision.

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