Capital Markets

Bankruptcies at 20-Year Low

Both the number and the value of public company bankruptcy filings have plunged since 2001, reflecting both the health of the economy and continued...
Sarah JohnsonAugust 29, 2006

The number of public companies filing for bankruptcy in 2006 will likely hit a record low, according to Sam Gerdano, executive director of the American Bankruptcy Institute.

Only 34 public companies have filed for Chapter 11 protection as of last week, nearly half the number that filed in 1980, the first year that current bankruptcy laws were put in place. That year experienced 62 filings, but 2006 will probably have only 50, Gerdano says.

“This is a reflection of the overall health of the U.S. economy and the availability of businesses to access capital at low-interest rates, in historic terms,” Gerdano says. More options abound for companies to build liquidity to avoid filing for bankruptcy, he adds.

The low number of bankruptcy filings is the latest in a string of good news about corporate credit quality this summer. As recently reported, analysts at Moody’s say global corporate credit quality improved during the first half of 2006 — a performance that was better than experts had predicted.

But just as Moody’s warns that credit quality for North American businesses will likely decline in the near future, the American Bankruptcy Institute’s Gerdano says that the number of bankruptcy filings are also likely to rise. “These things do run in cycles,” he says.

Still, the number of public companies filing this year are slim compared to just a few years ago. Near the end of August 2001, 171 companies had filed for Chapter 11, and the year ended with a total of 263 public companies filing for bankruptcy. The number of filings fell to to 125 in 2003, and then to 58 last year, Gerdano says.

The value — measured in assets claimed by a company before it files for Chapter 11 — of the 34 public businesses that have filed this year total $14.6 billion, compared to the same period in 2002, when the total number of assets was $269.75 billion. That number, of course, was inflated by the number of huge companies that filed that year, including WorldCom, Conseco, Global Crossing, and Adelphia Communications. This year, the size of newly bankrupt companies is much smaller. Only one company, auto-parts maker Dana Corp., reported assets worth more than $1 billion. Dana reported total assets of about $7.9 billion and total liabilities of about $4.7 billion, on a consolidated basis, as of September 30, 2005.

Gerdano does not believe the requirements of the Bankruptcy Abuse Protection and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which went into effect in October of last year, had much of an impact on companies. That law put more of a dent in consumer filings, which make up the bulk of the bankruptcy filing numbers released yesterday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. According to those numbers, the total number of U.S. bankruptcies filed during the first six months of this year were the lowest first-half calendar year filings on record in 20 years. Filings made from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2006 plunged to 272,604 from 868,482, the total number of filings for the same period in 2005.