Business bankruptcy is often associated with selling off a company’s assets to pay off debts, which corresponds to Chapter 7 filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. However, bankruptcy doesn’t always mean shutting down entirely. Many companies opt for Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy, thus enabling them to keep operating while working to improve their financial situation.
In the first half of 2023, both types of business bankruptcy filings surged in the United States. In particular, Chapter 11 filings were up 68% from the same period last year, according to Epiq Bankruptcy, a provider of bankruptcy statistics. This figure reflects only businesses involved in formal bankruptcy proceedings; many others are involved in informal, out-of-court reorganizations. Here are ways business valuation professionals can help distressed businesses navigate the reorganization process.
Chapter 11 Basics
When a company files for Chapter 11, it retains its assets as a ‘debtor in possession.’ Meanwhile, owners relinquish control to a court-appointed turnaround specialist who works with creditors and the bankruptcy court to come up with a turnaround plan. A court-imposed reorganization protects the company’s assets from creditors until the plan is devised and approved.
Typically, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding offers protection of business assets while restructuring the following types of debts:
- Priority tax debts
- Secured debts
- Unsecured debts
- Leases and contract debts
The bankruptcy process starts with a petition to the bankruptcy court. A voluntary petition is filed by the debtor. Conversely, an involuntary petition is filed by creditors after certain conditions have been met. In either event, the business typically has about four months to develop a reorganization plan. However, if ‘just cause’ for a delay can be shown, the court may grant a business up to 18 months after the petition filing to develop its plan. The goal is for the business to emerge from bankruptcy in better financial shape.
Historically, Chapter 11 was cost-prohibitive for many smaller businesses. Recent changes to bankruptcy law provide greater access to protection under Chapter 11 for small businesses.
Is this option right for a particular business? Companies contemplating Chapter 11 bankruptcy often seek the input of a business valuation professional to determine the appropriate course of action. Examples of ways valuators can provide guidance include helping management:
- Assess and mitigate the severity of the financial crisis with cash budgets
- Determine whether reorganization makes sense
- Develop and evaluate reorganization plans (including financial projections and sensitivity analyses)
- Appraise assets (such as inventory, equipment, and receivables)
- Divest nonoperating assets and unprofitable segments
- Restructure debts and loan covenants
If Chapter 11 bankruptcy doesn’t make sense and a liquidation under Chapter 7 will be necessary, a financial expert might act as a court-appointed receiver and consultant who can facilitate the liquidation process. This includes winding down operations and paying out creditors in order of legal preference.
For More Information
Bankruptcy isn’t always an ending — done right, it can be a fresh start. Business valuation professionals have the experience and training to help companies survive and even thrive after experiencing financial distress. Contact us for guidance on how to turn things around.