Beginner's Luck that Hertz: Bankrupt Companies and the Trap for Retail Investors

Kornsgold, Yona A.

 In United States bankruptcies, the absolute priority rule dictates that shareholders recover no value unless creditors are paid in full. Because unsecured creditors are typically not paid in full, shareholders lose their ownership interest and recover little to nothing in bankruptcy. Despite the minuscule chances that debtors’ shareholders will recover their investment in bankruptcy, debtors’ stocks continue to trade in large volume during bankruptcy. Amateur investors, who know little about the small chance of shareholder recovery, buy bankrupt company stock—especially that of well-known public companies trading at low prices—from sophisticated, institutional investors. Consequently, amateur investors can see huge losses during the bankruptcy process, while institutional investors are able to hedge some of their losses from now-insolvent companies. 

The current public and private regulatory regimes do not have the authority or desire to protect amateur investors trading bankrupt company stock. This Note proposes that Congress adopt an amendment to the Bankruptcy Code that grants bankruptcy courts a limited power to suspend trading in a company’s stock after the company files for bankruptcy. To trigger this measure, the courts must determine that shareholders are likely to receive little to no value in bankruptcy and that amateur investors will ignorantly purchase such bankrupt company stock. This Note then discusses the proposed amendment and its potential consequences and responds to expected criticisms of the amendment. 


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Columbia Business Law Review

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August 29, 2022