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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Insolvency means the inability to pay one's debts as they fall due. Usually used to refer to a business, insolvency refers to the inability of a company to pay off its debts.

Business insolvency is defined in two different ways:

Cash flow insolvency
Unable to pay debts as they fall due.
Balance sheet insolvency
Having negative net assets – in other words, liabilities exceed assets.

A business may be 'cash flow insolvent' but 'balance sheet solvent' if it holds illiquid assets, particularly against short term debt that it cannot immediately realise if called upon to do so. Conversely, a business can have negative net assets showing on its balance sheet but still be cash flow solvent if ongoing revenue is able to meet debt obligations, and thus avoid default – for instance, if it holds long term debt. Many large companies operate permanently in this state.

Insolvency is not a synonym for bankruptcy, which is a determination of insolvency made by a court of law with resulting legal orders intended to resolve the insolvency.

Contents

Definition in the UK

Insolvency is defined both in terms of cash flow and in terms of balance sheet in the UK Insolvency Act 1986, Section 123, which reads in part:[1]

123. Definition of inability to pay debts
(1) A company is deemed unable to pay its debts - [...]
(e) if it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that the company is unable to pay its debts as they fall due. This is known as cash flow insolvency.
(2) A company is also deemed unable to pay its debts if it is proved to the satisfaction of the court that the value of the company's assets is less than the amount of its liabilities, taking into account its contingent and prospective liabilities. This is known as balance sheet insolvency.

Consequences of insolvency

The principal focus of modern insolvency legislation and business debt restructuring practices no longer rests on the liquidation and elimination of insolvent entities but on the remodeling of the financial and organizational structure of debtors experiencing financial distress so as to permit the rehabilitation and continuation of their business. This is known as Business Turnaround or Business Recovery. In some jurisdictions, it is an offence under the insolvency laws for a corporation to continue in business while insolvent. In others (like the United States with its Chapter 11 provisions), the business may continue under a declared protective arrangement while alternative options to achieve recovery are worked out. Increasingly, legislatures have favored alternatives to winding up companies for good.[citation needed]

It can be grounds for a civil action, or even an offence, to continue to pay some creditors in preference to other creditors once a state of insolvency is reached.[citation needed]

Debt restructuring

Out-of court debt restructurings, also known as workouts, are increasingly becoming a global reality. Debt restructurings are typically handled by professional insolvency and restructuring practitioners, and are usually less expensive and a preferable alternative to bankruptcy.

Debt restructuring is a process that allows a private or public company - or a sovereign entity - facing cash flow problems and financial distress, to reduce and renegotiate its delinquent debts in order to improve or restore liquidity and rehabilitate so that it can continue its operations.

Government debt

Although the terms bankrupt and insolvent are often used in reference to governments or government obligations, a government cannot be insolvent in the normal sense of the word. Generally, a government's debt is not secured by the assets of the government, but by its ability to levy taxes. By the standard definition, all governments would be in a state of insolvency unless they had assets equal to the debt they owed. If, for any reason, a government cannot meet its interest obligation, it is technically not insolvent but is "in default". As governments are sovereign entities, persons who hold debt of the government cannot seize the assets of the government to re-pay the debt. However, in most cases, debt in default is refinanced by further borrowing or monetized by issuing more currency (which typically results in inflation and may result in hyperinflation).

Insolvency law in individual countries

Insolvency regimes around the world have evolved in very different ways, with laws focusing on different strategies for dealing with the insolvent corporate. The outcome of an insolvent restructuring can be very different depending on the laws of the state in which the insolvency proceeding is run, and in many cases different stakeholders in a company may hold the advantage in different jurisdictions.[2]

South Africa

In South Africa, owners of businesses that had at any stage traded insolvently (i.e. that had a balance-sheet insolvency) become personally liable for the business' debts. Trading insolvently is often regarded as normal business practice in South Africa, as long as the business is able to fulfil its debt obligations when they fall due.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the term bankruptcy is reserved for individuals.

A company which is insolvent may be put into liquidation (sometimes referred to as winding-up). The directors and shareholders can instigate the liquidation process without court involvement by a shareholder resolution and the appointment of a licensed Insolvency Practitioner as liquidator. However, the liquidation will not be effective legally without the convening of a meeting of creditors who have the opportunity to appoint a liquidator of their own choice. This process is known as creditors voluntary liquidation (CVL), as opposed to members voluntary liquidation (MVL) which is for solvent companies. Alternatively, a creditor can petition the court for a winding-up order which, if granted, will place the company into what is called compulsory liquidation or winding up by the court. The liquidator realises the assets of the company and distributes funds realised to creditors according to their priorities, after the deduction of costs.

It can be a civil and even a criminal offence for directors to allow a company to continue to trade whilst insolvent. However, two new insolvency procedures were introduced by the Insolvency Act 1986 which aim to provide time for the rescue of a company or, at least, its business. These are Administration and Company Voluntary Arrangement:

  • Administration is a procedure to protect a company from its creditors in order for it to be able to make significant operational changes or restructuring so that it could continue as a going concern, or at least in order to achieve a better outcome for creditors than via liquidation. In contrast to Chapter 11 in the US where the directors remain in control throughout that restructuring process, in the UK an Administrator is appointed who must be a licensed Insolvency Practitioner to manage the company's affairs to protect the creditors of the insolvent company and balance their respective interests. Unless the company itself is saved by this process, the company is subsequently put into liquidation to distribute the remaining funds.
  • A Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) is a legal agreement between the company and its creditors, based on paying a fixed amount lower than the outstanding actual debt. These are normally based on a monthly payment, and at the end of the agreed term the remaining debt is written-off. The CVA is managed by a Supervisor who must be a licensed Insolvency Practitioner. If the CVA fails, the company is usually put into liquidation.

One particular type of Administration that is becoming more common is called pre pack administration (more information under administration (law)). In this process, immediately after appointment the administrator completes a pre-arranged sale of the company's business, often to its directors or owners. The process can be seen as controversial because the creditors do not have the opportunity to vote against the sale. The rationale behind the device is that the swift sale of the business may be necessary or of benefit to enable a best price to be achieved. If the sale was delayed, creditors would ultimately lose out because the price obtainable for the assets would be reduced.

In addition to the above-mentioned corporate insolvency procedures, a creditor holding security over an asset of the company may have the power to appoint an insolvency practitioner as administrative receiver or, in Scotland, receiver. The process, latterly known as administrative receivership or, in Scotland, receivership, has existed for many years and has often resulted in a successful rescue of a company's business via a sale, but not of the company itself. Since the introduction of the collective insolvency procedure of Administration in 1986, the legislators have decided to set a shelf life on the administrative receivership or, in Scotland, receivership procedure and it is no longer possible to appoint an administrative receiver or, in Scotland, receiver under security created after 15 September 2003.

In individual cases the bankruptcy estate is dealt by an official receiver, appointed by the court. In some cases the file is transferred to RTLU (OR Regional Trustee Liquidator Unit) that will assess your assets and income to see if you can contribute towards paying costs of bankruptcy or even discharge part of your debts.

United States

Under the Uniform Commercial Code, a person is considered to be insolvent when the party has ceased to pay its debts in the ordinary course of business, or cannot pay its debts as they become due, or is insolvent within the meaning of the Bankruptcy Code. This is important because certain rights under the code may be invoked against an insolvent party which are otherwise unavailable.

The United States has established insolvency regimes[citation needed] which aim to protect the insolvent individual or company from the creditors, and balance their respective interests. For example, see Chapter 11, Title 11, United States Code. However, some state courts have begun to find individual corporate officers and directors liable for driving a company deeper into bankruptcy, under the legal theory of "deepening insolvency."[3]

In determining whether a gift or a payment to a creditor is an unlawful preference, the date of the insolvency, rather than the date of the legally-declared bankruptcy, will usually be the primary consideration.

Switzerland

Under Swiss law, insolvency or foreclosure may lead to the seizure and auctioning off of assets (generally in the case of private individuals) or to bankruptcy proceedings (generally in the case of registered commercial entities).

References

  1. ^ "UNITED KINGDOM - THE INSOLVENCY ACT 1986: COMPANY INSOLVENCY - COMPANIES WINDING UP: PART IV - WINDING UP OF COMPANIES REGISTERED UNDER THE COMPANIES ACTS". http://bankrupt.com/lbr/UK86CompanyInsolvency4.html. Retrieved 2008-09-21. 
  2. ^ Joseph Swanson and Peter Marshall, Houlihan Lokey and Lyndon Norley, Kirkland & Ellis International LLP (2008). A Practitioner's Guide to Corporate Restructuring. City & Financial Publishing, 1st edition ISBN 9781905121311
  3. ^ Thompson, David. "A Critique of 'Deepening Insolvency,' a New Bankruptcy Tort Theory". Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance 12 (2): 536. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1377375. Retrieved 2010-02-05. 

External links

Glossary of Insolvency Terms


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