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Corporate bankruptcies slow again in early April as companies find ample support

Government stimulus, low interest rates and flexible lenders are combining to keep bankruptcy filings low in 2021, experts say.

Eighteen companies entered bankruptcy proceedings in the first half of April, well behind the 31 recorded in early March and the monthly total of 61, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. The figures include public companies or private companies with public debt with a minimum of $2 million in assets or liabilities at the time of filing, in addition to private companies with at least $10 million in assets or liabilities.

As of April 15, 155 companies have announced bankruptcies so far in 2021. That is fewer than the 180 filings at the same time in 2020 and a slower pace than all but three of the prior 11 years — 2014, 2015 and 2018.

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Bankruptcy filings spiked in the initial months of the pandemic — bringing the 2020 total to record highs — as lockdown measures ground parts of the economy to a halt. Government stimulus measures in response to the pandemic have since helped keep more companies out of bankruptcy.

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Companies that might have otherwise needed to reorganize are likely taking advantage of easier access to capital to restructure their debts without having to seek bankruptcy relief, said Jay Brown, vice chairman of Akerman LLP's bankruptcy and restructuring practice, in an interview.

"Some of us have a pretty good workload, but we could be busier," Brown said of bankruptcy professionals.

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Chino, Calif.-based fashion retailer The Collected Group LLC on April 5 filed a plan to reorganize the company through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The privately owned company was one of the largest filings during the first half of April.

The Collected Group's restructuring plan is supported by affiliates of shareholder KKR & Co. Inc., according to an April 5 court filing. The plan would deleverage The Collected Group's balance sheet by about $150 million and provide The Collected Group with up to $30 million in exit financing, according to court documents. The Collected Group and KKR declined to comment.

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Real estate bankruptcies have so far lagged other industries during the pandemic, but a variety of factors continue to pressure the sector. Some retail tenants struggle to pay rents on commercial properties — if they are able to pay at all — and companies are rethinking their office footprints, said Dan Dooley, principal and CEO of MorrisAnderson, in an interview.

The explosion of online shopping has pressured the economics of brick and mortar retail space, and in response, landlords have repurposed more square feet to less-expensive experiential tenants like restaurants and gyms, which is pushing down the value of many lower-tiered malls, Dooley said. Meanwhile, the demand for office space is unlikely to recover for the next three or four years as the work-from-home trend plays out, Dooley said.

"Commercial real estate is going to be devastated," Dooley said. "I don't think there's anything anyone can do about that."

Given how much government support has helped struggling companies already, the fate of the infrastructure spending bill being debated in Washington will play a big role in determining whether the broader pace of bankruptcy filing picks up, said Winston Mar, partner and senior managing director at SierraConstellation Partners, in an interview.

"With more stimulus, there's going to be more growth," Mar said. "Without the stimulus, I think things will retract, but I don't think it's going to be a situation where there's going to be a huge recession."

Editor's note: This Data Dispatch is updated on a twice-monthly basis and the last edition was published April 7. Market Intelligence may remove companies from this list if it discovers that their total assets and liabilities do not meet the threshold requirement for inclusion.

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