Bankruptcy is the ultimate risk in stock investing. Unfortunately, it’s a much higher risk than normal in the current economic condition. Many companies with very strong businesses at the beginning of 2020 quickly came into serious peril, all due to the complete halt of our economy.
The federal government and the Federal Reserve have reacted swiftly and decisively to keep companies afloat until the economy improves.
However, we will likely see an uptick in bankruptcies over the next 12 months. We’ve already seen a large increase in bankruptcy filings.
The American Bankruptcy Institute reported a 26% increase in filings in April from last year.
You might be holding shares in a company that’s filed for bankruptcy. Or consider taking a position in a recently filed company, thinking you might be able to make some easy money. However, be aware that it’s contingent on if the company survives.
The obvious question is, what happens to my stocks if a company files for bankruptcy?
In this article, we’ll examine the different types of bankruptcy available to corporations and what it means to stockholders to avoid companies that are in danger of filing for bankruptcy.
This might save you butt from buying stock in serious trouble. Bankruptcy stock can get you into trouble if you’re not careful.
Bankruptcy is a legal process carried out in federal courts that allows businesses and individuals who cannot repay their debts a way out while helping creditors collect at least part of what they are owed. We’ll only focus on business bankruptcies here, but head here for more on fundamental analysis.
Before bankruptcy, debtors who couldn’t repay their creditors were sent to debtors’ prison. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to come up with the money to repay someone while locked up in jail.
Modern bankruptcy laws in the US took a long time to come about. Bankruptcy laws were passed three times in the 1800s and promptly repealed before the Bankruptcy Act of 1898 was passed and finally stayed on the books.
These laws were refined in acts passed in 1933 and 1934 during the economic tumult of the Great Depression.
Many securities laws that still govern our public markets today were passed in those two years. Our live trading room will discuss things like different bankruptcy stocks to look at.
In most cases, the debtor files the petition for bankruptcy to protect themselves from creditors. However, in rare cases, a creditor may file a petition with bankruptcy courts if they believe that if a business continues operations, they’ll decrease their assets.
Creditors have rights to a company’s assets if payment arrangements aren’t honored. This is why you might hear the phrase “bankruptcy protection.” More on that in a moment.
1. Chapter 7
Chapter 7 bankruptcies are probably what most people think of when they hear the term “bankrupt.” The chapter number refers to the bankruptcy code section relevant to the filing.
In chapter 7, all of the company’s assets are liquidated, and the business will cease to exist. Upon liquidation, there are strict rules regarding the “order of precedence” that determines who gets paid first, as follows:
- Any Unpaid Taxes
- Secured Debts
- Unsecured Debits
- Bond Holders
- Preferred Stock Holders
- Common Stock Holders
As you can see, stockholders are at the bottom of that list. As a result, the likelihood of equity owners getting anything in a chapter 7 bankruptcy is extremely low.
However, if a company had cash left over after paying everyone else off, the remaining cash would be distributed equally per share. Therefore, if you have bankruptcy stock, you might see some money.
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2. Chapter 11
Most of the time, when a company files for bankruptcy, it’s chapter 11. In chapter 11, the court protects the company until a detailed plan is submitted.
This outlines how the company will financially recover. The court has the authority to accept this plan, even without the consent of the creditors. However, creditors do have a voice in this process.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy usually will have a temporary trading freeze on the shares and is likely to be delisted. However, if the stock continues to trade on the OTC markets, a “Q” may be added to the ticker symbol to designate it as a company in bankruptcy.
There are a lot of potential outcomes for stockholders in chapter 11. But the most common is for the existing shares to be wiped out.
One of the common ways creditors will be compensated in chapter 11 bankruptcies is to be issued new equity shares, which probably means the existing shares will be canceled.
Each deal is different; the “devil is in the details,” as is often the case in stock market investing.
Avoid Companies in Danger of Filing Bankruptcy
So hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you generally want to avoid a company that is near or already in bankruptcy. But how can you avoid these companies to begin with? The answer is a careful analysis of the company’s balance sheet. The balance sheet is one of three financial statements companies must provide investors every quarter when they announce their earnings results. It shows what a company owns and how it is financed.
It’s called a “balance” sheet because the assets side (what’s owned) must equal the sum of the liabilities plus the owner’s equity side.
Liabilities is another term for debt. This is money that the company owes to creditors. Finally, owner’s equity includes money paid into the company by investors and “retained earnings,” Which are profits that the company keeps instead of returning to shareholders.
We’ve found that StockRover does a fantastic job of issuing warnings and uncovering the fundamental details investors need to know. For example, look at $HTZ, which was recently filed.
There are two simple ratios to look at that can tell you if a company is on solid financial footing.
The “Quick Ratio” - Bankruptcy Stock
The quick ratio for bankruptcy stock, often called the “acid test” ratio, shows whether the company has enough cash to pay its immediate obligations.
On the assets side of the balance sheet, you will find a line about halfway down called “Current Assets.” These are cash, short-term investments, units receivable (money to the company), less, and inventory (you can’t pay your bills with inventory).
In the liabilities section, you find “Current Liabilities,” which must be paid within the months. The quick ratio is calculated as Current Assets – Inventory/Current Liabilities. If this number is less than one, that’s a red flag.
Debt to Equity Ratio
This one is a simpler calculation. But there isn’t such a hard line between good and. You need to compare to other companies in the same industry to see if your company is better or worse than its peers, as different companies use debt differently.
The calculation is simply Total Liabilities/Shareholders’ Equity. I generally like to look for companies around one or a little less. But again, some great companies use more debt to finance their businesses.
So you must understand the sector and bankruptcy stock you’re looking at to get a real picture of what the Debt to Equity ratio tells.
$HTZ chart says it all. But unfortunately, bankruptcy is an event that can destroy a chart.
Final Thoughts: Stock Bankruptcy
Debt isn’t always a bad thing. Using debt helps companies grow faster and make investments they wouldn’t be able to make without it. As a result, bankruptcy stock can be good.
Also, interest reduces tax liabilities, so there is a fiscal benefit to using debt to fund a company. However, bad times will come in business.
Sometimes they come on out of nowhere for reasons completely out of a company’s control, as they have this year. In those down times, a strong balance sheet is often the difference between who survives and who files for bankruptcy.