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Promoting Corporate Social Responsibility Through Lending

Financial institutions continue to develop products to encourage Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals. The Loan Market Association has recently published Sustainability Linked Loan Principles to guide the use of loan instrument terms to promote the achievement of the borrower’s sustainability goals. As with disclosure and measurement associated with corporate disclosures intended to appeal to socially responsible investors, the success of such Sustainability Linked Loans in promoting better sustainability performance will largely depend on the borrower’s ability to set ambitious but realistic goals that are measurable and verifiable by third parties. 

Companies who have a deep and thorough understanding of their products life cycle (from all the raw material inputs through the end of the products useful life with the customer) will have the best chance of working with their lender to design sustainability performance targets that will actually move the needle.  As more of these loans are created, it will then be interesting to see how financial institutions report to their investors on how these lending products are improving the sustainability of their loan portfolios. 

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Are the Assets in Custody?

Are the Assets in Custody?

March 22, 2017

Authored by: Matthew D'Amico

Lender Beware:
The custody assets you are lending against may not actually be held in custody.

Lenders to funds and other borrowers often extend credit based on a security interest over assets that are held in custody.  The lender is granted a security interest in the relevant custody account and all of the cash, securities and other assets therein, and then perfects the security interest by entering into a “control agreement” with the custodian.  The lender may have made two big assumptions: (1) the custodian has “custody” of the assets, and (2) upon receipt of instructions from the lender after default, the custodian can readily transfer or otherwise dispose of the relevant assets.  Upon closer examination, however, these assumptions may prove to be incorrect.

There are two broad categories of assets that are capable of being held in custody:

(1) Assets such as a bearer bond, a stock certificate in the name of the borrower (together with an undated stock power in blank), or gold bullion.  This is referred to as “on premises custody” or “direct custody”; the custodian has physical custody of the asset.  In each of these cases, the custodian has the power to transfer title to the asset by delivery thereof – it may not have the right vis-à-vis the borrower (i.e., the custodian may be liable for breach of its duty to the borrower), but it does have the power.

(2) Assets that are held in an indirect holding system.  This is referred to as “off premises custody” or “indirect custody.”  One typical example of how an indirect holding system works: a clearing company (such as Depository Trust Company) holds a master share certificate for 500 million shares of an S&P 500 publicly‑traded company. The clearing company identifies on its books and records 10 million of such shares as being held for the account of the custodian (in its capacity as a member of the clearing company) and, in turn, the custodian identifies on its books and records 100,000 of such shares as being held for the account of the borrower.  In this case, the custodian has the power to (a) “move” some or all of those 100,000 shares on its books and records to another of its custody clients, or (b) advise the clearing company that some or all of such shares have been transferred to a third party that does not maintain an account with the custodian (in which case the clearing company would revise its books and records to reflect that such shares are held by or through another member of such clearing company).  In any event, as a general rule, the custodian has the power to transfer the borrower’s interests in these shares.

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Should you Buy Loans from “Peer-to-Peer” Lenders?

The market views peer-to-peer lending as having great promise.
And, some banks are buying these loans in earnest.
Should your bank look closely at doing the same?

Since the financial crisis, a new generation of non-bank lenders has grown up to serve markets that banks either retreated from or have not been able to serve effectively.  Lending Club is the best known example.  Prosper is a company that pioneered the term “peer-to-peer” lending and originally saw its role as facilitating the loan of money from ordinary people to ordinary people.

Change happened quickly.  Now, the more fashionable name for companies in this sector is “marketplace lender.”  This term better describes the economics in which a wide array of non-bank lenders make loans in a multiplying array of asset classes and then sell those loans to professional investors.   The share of these loans sold to professional investors is estimated at 80% and growing.  Buyers include asset managers like BlackRock, hedge funds, business development companies, banks and even a specialized mutual fund.  To feed investors’ voracious appetite for these loans, marketplace lenders have expanded beyond their original focus on unsecured personal loans into small-business loans, student loans, real estate loans and an array of other niche loan products, such as financing weddings (and divorces) and point of sale loans, including loans for cars and elective medical procedures.  Most of these lenders rely heavily on technology in the underwriting, documentation and closing of these loans.  Most operate almost exclusively online.

While marketplace lenders pose an immediate threat to some banks, most community banks are not affected from a competitive perspective.  Smaller banks rarely have the ability to make these sorts of loans in a cost-effective manner.  The CRE and C&I loans on which community banks depend are still largely unaffected.  It still requires significant human involvement to underwrite and structure a large commercial loan.

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Debt Collector has Burden to Prove FDCPA Exception

Under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, a debt collector is liable to a consumer for contacting third parties in pursuit of that consumer’s debt unless the communication falls under a statutory exception. One of those exceptions covers communication with a third party for acquiring location information about the consumer.  Even then, the Act prohibits more than one such contact unless the debt collector reasonably believes that the earlier response of the third party was erroneous or incomplete and that such person now has correct or complete location information.

The first federal court of appeals to address the issue has just ruled that if sued in a case alleging illegal third-party contact, the debt collector has the duty to plead and prove the exception. To take shelter in the exception, a debt collector must expressly state in its answer to the complaint (facts permitting) that it pursued repeat contacts with the third-party because it reasonably believed that her earlier response was erroneous or incomplete and that she now has correct or complete location information. To prevail on the defense, the debt collector will also have to produce evidence in discovery and provide testimony at trial that proves those facts. The debt collector will need someone to testify at trial to those facts that made it reasonable to believe that the third party’s earlier response was erroneous or incomplete and that the third party now has correct or complete location information.

This latter point may be very difficult to prove. How would the debt collector come into possession of facts that would lead it to believe that a third party now has correct or complete location information without a further call? It is probably a very rare occurrence.

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Mafia Guaranties Loan to Murder Inc.

Every now and then the name of the parties in a case just sort of jumps out and grabs you. A recent decision out of Nevada involved a guaranty given by The Mafia Collection (“Mafia”) for certain loans made to Murder, Inc., LLC (“Murder”).  Murder defaulted on the loans and the secured creditors sought to foreclose on the collateral pledged by Mafia comprising some 1500 mob related artifacts.

While the foreclosure case was pending, Mafia acquired some of the secured notes that it had guaranteed. Mafia then filed a counterclaim/third-party claim against the collateral agent for the lenders, Andrew DeMaio, alleging unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty. The lower court ruled in favor of the collateral agent and the secured creditors and awarded attorney fees and costs as allegedly provided for in the parties’ secured notes and security agreement.

On appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Mafia raised several issues, one of which dealt with whether the district court erred by dismissing as nonassignable Mafia’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty. A claim for breach of fiduciary duty is similar in nature to a claim arising under fraud as opposed to a breach of contract type of claim. In many states, including Nevada, a claim for fraud is not assignable to third parties, it is deemed to be “personal” to the defrauded party.

The court found that the district court erred by dismissing Mafia’s claim because there was a disputed issue of material fact as to the basis of Mafia’s claim, namely, whether the collateral agent allegedly breached his fiduciary duty to Mafia in its personal capacity, as a guarantor and/or a creditor (after it acquired the secured loans), or whether he allegedly breached his fiduciary duty to the selling noteholders, who in turn attempted to assign their claim to Mafia by virtue of the loan assignments. The former claim would be permissible; the latter would not.

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A $1.5 Billion (Un)Secured Loan

A $1.5 Billion (Un)Secured Loan

February 2, 2015

Authored by: Brian Devling and Jeff Chavkin

An opinion from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in In re Motors Liquidation Company, relying on the Delaware Supreme Court’s answer to a certified question highlight the need to focus on the details when dealing with financing statements and terminations under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code.  Because the parties in that case did not pay attention to the details, a $1.5 billion secured term loan became unsecured loan.

General Motors had two separate credit facilities led by JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., as agent for the different lender groups: a $300 million synthetic lease financing and a $1.5 billion secured term loan.  Two UCC-1 financing statements were filed in connection with the synthetic lease and a separate UCC-1 was filed with respect to the term loan.. All three financing statements identified JPMorgan, as agent, as the secured party.

In 2008, General Motors told its counsel on the synthetic lease to prepare documents to unwind the synthetic lease.  The partner at GM’s counsel delegated some of the work to an associate who further delegated the UCC work to a paralegal.  The paralegal ran a UCC search that revealed the 3 UCC-1 filings and the paralegal prepared termination statements for all three filings including one for the term loan that was not being repaid.  JPMorgan and its counsel reviewed the draft termination statements, did not catch the mistake and authorized the filing.  All three terminations were filed and no one noticed the term loan’s financing statement was terminated until after GM filed for bankruptcy protection.

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Extending Credit to a Bank Holding Company

Over the past several years reports of someone extending credit to a community bank holding company were similar to sightings of the Yeti in the Himalaya, you might hear about it but you never actually saw one. The number of bank failures and the consequent insolvency of many bank holding companies has led to a natural reluctance on the part of many lenders to provide such financing. The losses that many lenders suffered on such loans has raised some interesting questions about the loans were structured to begin with. The typical loan documentation for such a credit usually has traditionally had only a few financial covenants. The obligation to maintain well capitalized status for both the bank holding company and the subsidiary bank has been the primary focus on the assumption (not altogether incorrect) that maintaining a strong capital base cures many sins. Other covenants might address the ratio of non-performing loans to total capital, the ratio of the Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses to classified assets or simply the bank’s Texas ratio.

Historically, banks generally use financial covenants in loan documents as a signal to either cause the borrower to take immediate action to right the ship or to allow the lender to exit the relationship.  In theory, the “early signal” approach works in many types of businesses and industries. It has proven, however, to be problematic in the banking industry. The issue that lenders have run into is that a loan to a bank holding company is unlike any other type of loan they might make. In a nonbanking environment the lender might seek to take control of the assets and liquidate them.  At the end of the day the lender is free to liquidate assets and apply the proceeds toward the loan within a broad framework provides by general contract law and the UCC. A loan secured by a controlling interest in a bank presents a different situation.

When the subsidiary bank gets into financial distress the lender to the bank holding company can be presented with a difficult dilemma. During this past recession, it was not unusual to see banks downgraded from 2 to 5 on the CAMELS ratings in one examination cycle and to fall from being well capitalized very quickly. Thus, the early warning nature of the traditional financial covenants were of almost no assistance whatsoever to the lender. Once the subsidiary bank was considered “troubled” and prevented from making dividend payments to the holding companies, bank holding company loans quickly moved into default and in many cases had to be written off completely. Another particularly damaging element was the use by banks of  interest reserves for loans in the ADC portfolio. Interest reserves served to mask a decline in the quality of the underlying loans in that a loan may show as current on the bank’s books while in reality the real estate project has stalled.

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BBA LIBOR No Longer Exists

BBA LIBOR No Longer Exists

February 5, 2014

Authored by: Brian Devling

Commercial and consumer loans commonly accrue interest at a rate calculated in reference to LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate. LIBOR was designed to be the average interest rate that leading banks in London, England would charge other banks. The British Bankers Association (BBA) administered LIBOR and many loan documents refer to BBA LIBOR. Effective February 1, 2014, the BBA no longer administers LIBOR. The Intercontinental Exchange Benchmark Administration Ltd (ICE) now has responsibility for LIBOR. The handover is part of the fallout from the recent scandal caused by banks trying to manipulate LIBOR.

Going forward any references to BBA LIBOR in your loan document templates should be updated. There is no need to refer to the entity administering LIBOR. A general reference to the London Interbank Offered Rate should suffice. Even better, many loan documents refer to LIBOR as reported by Reuters because that is where the lender is actually obtaining the rate. Loan documents should also contain provisions to accommodate future, unexpected changes in LIBOR or the Reuters reporting service.

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Losing Good Loans to Larger Banks? Try an Interest Rate Swap

Many community banks are reluctant to consider interest rate swaps due to perceived complexity as well as accounting and regulatory burdens. But, in a record low interest rate environment, the most desirable customers almost universally demand something that is hard for community banks to deliver: a long-term, fixed interest rate. Large banks are eager to accommodate this demand and usually do so by offering such a borrower an interest rate swap that, together with the loan facility, delivers the borrower a net long-term, fixed rate obligation and the lending bank a loan with an effective variable rate.

The alternatives to using swaps are not appealing. A community bank can limit its product offerings to only variable rate loans or short-term, fixed rate loans and thereby lose many good customers to larger competitors. The bank can offer a long-term fixed rate on the loan and then (a) sell the loan and lose ongoing earnings and the customer relationship, or (b) borrow long-term funds from the Federal Home Loan Bank to match that asset with appropriate liabilities, a choice that significantly erodes profit on the loan and uses up precious wholesale liquidity.

If a community bank wants to compete using interest rate swaps, then there are three general methods for packaging an interest rate swap with a typical loan offered by a community bank. There are several regulations that apply to swaps, including changes to the Commodities Exchange Act enacted by the Dodd-Frank Act and the numerous related rules and regulations promulgated by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”). If the community bank is under $10 billion in assets, then all three swap methods described below should qualify for an exemption from regulatory requirements that interest rate swaps be cleared through a derivatives exchange. Avoiding clearing requirements saves considerable costs and operational effort.

The first is a one-way swap in which a community bank simply makes a long term, fixed-rate loan to its borrower and then executes an interest rate swap with a swap dealer (such as a broker-dealer affiliate of a larger commercial bank) to hedge against rising interest rates. In a one-way swap, the community bank is subject to fair value hedge accounting, which requires the bank to mark the swap to market on its balance sheet and run changes in fair value through its income statement.

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Regulators Issue Statement on Lending to Creditworthy Small Businesses

On February 5, 2010, the federal banking regulators and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors issued an Interagency Statement on the Credit Needs of Creditworthy Small Business Borrowers.  The Statement builds upon principles set forth in the October 2009 Policy Statement on Prudent Commercial Real Estate Loan Workouts.  After noting the overall decline in loans to small businesses and the reasons for that decline the regulators suggested that lenders may have become overly cautious with respect to small business lending.  They encourage lenders to engage in prudent small business lending and that that examiners will not criticize lenders for working in prudent and constructive manner with small businesses.

The decline in small business lending has many reasons, not the least of which is that loan demand is actually down.  Lenders are also naturally cautious of lending to those businesses that are reliant solely on cash flow that has slowed due to the slowdown in consumer spending and the decline ion the personal wealth of the owners of the businesses.  Despite the assertions to the contrary by the regulators, lenders are concerned that there is a disconnect between statements from Washington, DC and what actually happens in the field when examiners are onsite at financial institutions.  Our experience seems to show that local federal regulators do not see any upside in being flexible when faced with making decisions about how to rate credits.  Lenders are therefore naturally reluctant to maker decisions based on guidance until they see it actually implemented on the ground.

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