Cash Is King. An army may march on its stomach, but for companies, it’s liquidity that keeps the business going. For many companies, typical sources of liquidity, beyond cash flow from sales or other revenue, are (1) financing from banks or other secured lenders, (2) credit from vendors that can reduce immediate liquidity needs, and (3) when needed, loans from owners, investors, or other insiders.
When A Liquidity Crisis Hits. Companies in financial distress often find that their need for liquidity goes up just as the availability of traditional financing goes down. The borrowing base may shrink, the ability to get further advances may be cut off, and loans may go into default. Worse, new lenders may be unwilling to make loans given the distress. For many distressed businesses, revenues may also be declining and insufficient to cover expenses without additional financing. A liquidity crunch can quickly snowball into a liquidity crisis.
Insider Loans. Even if an owner, investor, or other insider might be open to making a loan, the company’s distress may raise a red flag because of the extra scrutiny often given to insider loans to a distressed company. Insiders may be concerned that if they make the loan, creditors or a bankruptcy trustee could later challenge it (and any security interest granted) in an attempt to recharacterize the loan as an equity contribution or have the debt equitably subordinated — and therefore never repaid — in a bankruptcy.
A Potential Solution: DIP Financing. A company in financial distress is probably already looking at a workout, restructuring, or sale of the business. Out-of-court workouts should be considered and may succeed. However, in the right situation a Chapter 11 bankruptcy can provide powerful options, including the ability to facilitate financing. If a company needs a loan but a potential lender is unwilling to make it, including because of concern about a legal challenge, the Bankruptcy Code offers a way to give the lender comfort that the loan will not be challenged, even if the lender is an insider or a potential purchaser.
- To explore this further, we first need to review a little bankruptcy terminology. When a company files a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company’s management and board of directors remain in possession of its business (unless a trustee is later appointed). For that reason, the company in Chapter 11 is called a "debtor in possession" or a "DIP" for short. The special Chapter 11 bankruptcy financing is known by this acronym: DIP financing.
- When the debtor company has lined up a lender, it files a motion seeking Bankruptcy Court approval of the DIP financing. Typical DIP financing terms include a first priority security interest, a market or even premium interest rate, an approved budget, and other lender protections. Creditors have a right to object to the DIP loan, and may do so if the proposed lender is an insider, and the Bankruptcy Court will ultimately decide whether to approve it.
- If the company already has secured debt, to borrow funds secured by a lien equal or senior to the existing lender (often called "priming" the existing lender), the company either will need the existing lender to consent or will have to convince the Bankruptcy Court that the existing lender’s lien position will be "adequately protected" (essentially meaning that the existing lender will not be worse off if the DIP loan is approved).
- An existing lender itself may be willing to make a DIP loan, even if it has refused to make further advances outside of bankruptcy. In fact, when DIP loans are made they often come from a company’s existing lender. That lender may have its own reasons to use the DIP financing process, for instance, to finance a sale process on specific timelines or otherwise to enhance its position.
- Unlike a loan outside of bankruptcy, if the Bankruptcy Court gives final approval to a DIP loan and finds that the loan was made in good faith, the new DIP loan will no longer be subject to legal challenge. Put differently, with that approval in hand, a loan that could have been challenged outside of bankruptcy will not be subject to challenge inside of bankruptcy. That’s true even if the lender is an insider or a "stalking horse purchaser" seeking to buy the company’s assets.
- The takeaway is that while it isn’t easy, in the right case a distressed company may be able to use Chapter 11 bankruptcy’s DIP financing procedures to get the liquidity it needs, to run a sale process or finance a formal Chapter 11 restructuring, even if it could not get a new loan outside of bankruptcy.
Why Chapter 11? One of the key reasons companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is because of the special legal protections it provides. For the company, those include the automatic stay and, in the right case, the ability to restructure its debts through a Chapter 11 plan of reorganization. Chapter 11’s protections for purchasers of assets can sometimes allow the seller to achieve through Chapter 11 a sale price that it never could have realized without bankruptcy. Likewise, Chapter 11’s DIP financing process for lenders may help the company generate liquidity — including from an existing lender, investor, or stalking horse purchaser — even if it could not do so outside of bankruptcy.
Conclusion. A company facing a liquidity crisis should get legal advice from an experienced restructuring and bankruptcy attorney to make sure it considers all options. A workout or other out-of-court restructuring may be able to solve the problem and get the business back on track. However, there are times when a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, despite its costs and disruptions, is the best tool in the toolkit. That’s especially true if Chapter 11’s DIP financing rules help a business access liquidity that it could not get outside of bankruptcy.