FTI says a Biden win would accelerate energy sector bankruptcies

Katherine Doherty November 04, 2020

(Bloomberg) --Bankruptcy filings hit a three-month high as investors brace for economic shifts from the U.S. election that could force more large corporations to seek protection from creditors.

Energy sector filings could accelerate if Joe Biden wins, according to Carlyn Taylor, global co-leader of corporate finance and restructuring at FTI Consulting Inc.

A move to alternative power sources is already underway, “but Biden’s policies are speeding up the transition process, while Trump is trying to slow it down,” said Taylor, whose firm advises on bankruptcy and restructurings. “We’ll see plenty of filings under either administration.”

So far in 2020, there have been 43 bankruptcies by energy companies that have over $50 million in liabilities, more than in any full year on record, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Energy contractor Pacific Drilling SA filed last week, while oil and gas companies account for about 20% of the $266 billion in distressed U.S. bonds and loans outstanding, up from about 17% at the height of the crisis in March.

By contrast, health-care companies may see some relief if Biden is elected, said James Bentley, partner in the restructuring group at law firm Winston & Strawn. A Biden government would probably spend more on the sector, propping up hospitals and boosting the Affordable Care Act, Bentley said.

There were three health-care bankruptcy filings last month, taking the 2020 total to 19, the most for any year on record.

The virus hurts the industry by crowding out profitable health care services, FTI’s Taylor said. She expects restructuring to stay “active with more regulation and pricing pressure that could make things worse.”

There were seven Chapter 11 filings by companies with more than $50 million in liabilities in the week ended Oct. 31, the most since the start of August. They included two of the largest mall landlords, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust and CBL & Associates Properties Inc. October saw 17 filings overall, the most for any tenth month since 2009, but still the least since March of this year.

Filings Flurry

The post-election pace of bankruptcy will depend on the sector and “how effective the winning candidate is at implementing his campaign’s policies,” Bentley said. “Companies with near-term liquidity issues will file for bankruptcy regardless of the outcome.”

There have been 219 bankruptcy filings year-to-date by companies with more than $50 million in liabilities, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s the most since 2009, when there were 254 in the comparable period.

More Distress

The total amount of distressed bonds and loans traded edged up 0.4% to $266 billion as of Oct. 30. That’s down from $935 billion in mid-March, Bloomberg data show. The volume of distressed bonds rose 3.6% while loans dropped 6.4%.

There were 537 distressed bonds from 288 issuers trading as of Monday, up slightly week-on-week. That’s significantly less than the 1,896 issues from 892 companies at the March 23 peak.

American Airlines Group Inc. had the most distressed debt of issuers that hadn’t filed for bankruptcy as of Oct. 30, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Several companies with distressed debt are due to report earnings this week, including shopping center owner Washington Prime Group Inc., Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. -- whose Diamond Sports business is distressed -- and Cinemark Holdings Inc.

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