Stephen Phillips

Partner

London


Read full biography at www.orrick.com

Stephen is Co-head of Orrick's European Restructuring team, and brings significant experience in advising banks, bondholders and corporate groups on restructuring and banking matters.

Praised for his ‘pragmatic and clear advice’ by Legal 500 UK, Stephen's practice focuses on advising alternative credit providers, hedge funds and the special situation arms of investment banks. He and the team are well-placed to handle cross-border mandates as a result of Orrick's extensive European, Asian and US network of offices.

Clients describe Stephen as ‘very savvy from a commercial point of view. He understands what goals we are trying to achieve and finds a legal way to get us there’

Stephen has authored and published several articles in market leading business sector titles and is regularly quoted in national and sector press.

Having begun his career in Asia advising creditors affected by the Asia Currency Crisis, he returned to London to advise bondholder committees on High Yield / Fallen Angel bond restructurings in the early to mid-2000s.

During the global financial crisis Stephen’s experience focused on leverage finance restructurings and bank restructurings.  

Stephen’s principal recent engagements include advising the Ocean Rig group in its restructuring of USD 4bn debt through a Cayman scheme of arrangement, the special committee of the board of Seadrill Partners (SDLP) in respect of a transaction which insulated SDLP from the restructuring efforts of its parent company, Seadrill Limited, and the trustee of the High Yield Bonds of Pages Jaunes which was connected to the restructuring of the indebtedness of the Solocal group. In 2017 Stephen advised the trustee of the bonds of Edcon in its restructuring, a deal which American Lawyer awarded the Global Restructuring Deal of 2017.

Posts by: Stephen Phillips

A Convergence of Insolvency Regimes – Europe in the Brexit Era

 

As part of a continued effort in Europe to reform insolvency legislation, the British government issued a paper in March 2018 as a response to a draft directive published by the European Commission in November 2016. The Response proposed highly significant reforms to the current insolvency legislation which–interestingly, in this era of Brexit–if adopted, would bring the British insolvency policies closer in line with the current policies of the European Union. Learn more about the proposed reform from this recent restructuring alert, which breaks down the new proposed restructuring plan, analyzes a possible implementation timeline and compares the potential legislation to the current policies in place in the European Union.

The Rule in Gibbs: Safeguarding Creditors’ Rights or Aiding and Abetting “Hold Out” in Foreign Insolvencies?

There is an English common law rule that a debt governed by English law cannot be discharged or compromised by a foreign insolvency proceeding. This rule is derived from a Court of Appeal case: Antony Gibbs and sons v La Société Industrielle et Commerciale des Métaux (1890) 25 QBD 399.

The rule has been heavily criticised. Many do not consider it to be relevant in modern day cross-border insolvency proceedings following the continuing trend towards recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings (and their effects). As explained further below, some commentators see the rule as assisting creditors to “hold out” from participating in collective insolvency measures which are designed to benefit the creditor class as a whole.

The English court recently had the opportunity to review whether Gibbs still applied in Bakhshiyeva v Sberbank of Russia [2018] EWHC 59 (Ch). The court considered an application by a foreign representative to the English court on behalf of a debtor, International Bank of Azerbaijan, for a permanent stay on a creditors’ enforcement of claims in England under an English law governed contract contrary to the terms of the foreign insolvency proceeding. Under local law, the English creditors were purportedly bound. The Azerbaijani proceedings were not “terminal” liquidation proceedings and therefore, any stay would need to apply beyond the duration of the proceedings to properly bind the English creditors and to permanently give effect to the insolvency proceedings.

The foreign proceedings were conducted in Azerbaijan and had been recognised in England under the Cross-Border Insolvency Regulations 2006 (the “CBIR“) (implementing UNCITRAL Model Law). The CBIR are a procedural mechanism whereby foreign insolvency proceedings (conducted outside the EU) can be recognised and foreign representatives can seek “assistance” from courts in other jurisdictions to effect the insolvency proceedings (subject to any restrictions on the exercise of such power under local law).

The English High Court found that the rule in Gibbs did apply to prevent the court granting a permanent (or indefinite) stay on the enforcement of creditors’ English law governed contractual claims. Any stay granted by the court would be more than simply procedural and would go to the substance of creditors’ claims – the court would, in effect, be ordering the discharge of the creditor’s claim and was prohibited from doing this, following the rule in Gibbs.

The message for creditors with English law claims which are purportedly extinguished under a foreign (non-EU) insolvency process is therefore, to adopt a “hold out” position. Following the expiry of the foreign proceedings (and any related stay on creditor action), objecting creditors may then take steps to enforce English law governed contractual claims provided however, that they have not participated in the foreign insolvency proceedings (they may otherwise be deemed to have accepted the jurisdiction of the foreign proceeding).

We note many holders of English law governed bonds issued by the Greek government adopted a “hold-out” strategy knowing that the English courts would not recognise any provision of Greek law extinguishing or amending the sovereign debt.

The “territorial” nature of the rule in Gibbs is, arguably, “out of step” with trends in modern insolvency law. In the US, for example, in proceedings under Chapter 15 of the Bankruptcy Code (the US statute adopting UNCITRAL Model Law) (“Chapter 15“), US courts have enforced foreign court judgements made in foreign proceedings, including judgements which alter or vary US law governed debts or claims. Chapter 15 does however, include important public policy protections for creditors designed to forestall recognition of clearly abusive procedures.

The US has a longstanding policy of recognising restructurings of US law governed financings of foreign companies. The Supreme Court’s 1883 decision in the famous Gebhard case (Canada Southern Railway Co v Gebhard [1883] 109 US 527) set the precedent for US recognition of foreign restructuring processes in which Chief Justice Waite endorsed the recognition of the implementation of a Canadian scheme of arrangement with the words “under these circumstances the true spirit of international comity requires that schemes of this character, legalised at home, should be recognised in other countries“.

The “public policy” exception to recognition under Chapter 15 only applies in “exceptional circumstances” and includes, for example, circumstances where a creditor was denied due process and notice of the foreign insolvency proceedings of the debtor; and the denial of privacy rights. The fact that a creditor may make a more limited recovery, and the fact that the substantive law of the insolvency proceeding was not the same as US law, were not held to be “manifestly contrary” to public policy.

We note the Gibbs rule has been disapplied in the context of EU insolvency proceedings, on the basis that English courts recognise the jurisdiction of courts in respect of insolvency proceedings in Member States under the European Insolvency Regulation (“EIR“); and similar “public policy” exceptions apply. It is difficult to justify the radically different approach English courts take to non-EU insolvency proceedings particularly given the UK’s recent decision to leave the EU.

Our view is that as part of any withdrawal treaty of the UK from the EU, the parties should look to negotiate a process for mutual recognition of insolvency proceedings based on the EIR “recognition” approach. Looking outside of its relationship with the EU, it would also seem sensible for the UK to look to adopt an approach similar to US Chapter 15, for the UK courts to recognise foreign insolvency proceedings with safeguards for creditors to avoid the application of such rules only if limited public policy reasons exist to void the application of the foreign insolvency proceedings. The English court will want to avoid “re-litigating” issues dealt with under foreign insolvency proceedings, and should not examine actual recoveries made by creditors. However, a carve out on “public policy” grounds could protect English creditors if it captured circumstances where the process was evidently “discriminatory” to foreign (English) creditors.

We acknowledge there are strong arguments to retain the Gibbs rule. By entering an English law contract, creditors may feel strongly that they wish to retain the impartiality, commerciality and due process English courts are well known for.

As we near BREXIT, in this issue as in so many others, the UK has a decision to make: adopt English “exceptionalism” or take a more ‘universalist’ view implied by the recognition of foreign insolvency proceedings exemplified by the current arrangements under the EIR? The choice is looming.

Recast EU Insolvency Regulation Comes into Force

 

On 26 June 2017, the Recast EU Insolvency Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No. 2015/848) came into force. It will apply to all relevant insolvency proceedings (although existing and ongoing proceedings will continue to be bound by the EU Insolvency Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No. 1346/2000) (the “EIR”)). The Recast EU Insolvency Regulation will have direct effect in all EU member states (except Denmark).”

The Recast EU Insolvency Regulation is an update of the EIR following ten years of insolvency practice and experience since the EIR’s implementation. Largely, it represents a codification of well-established insolvency practice developed across the EU under the EIR however, it also introduces new innovative steps which, it is hoped, mark a step forward in light of learnings under the EIR to address perceived issues or “gaps” in existing legislation. READ MORE

Orrick Assists in the Restructuring of Leading French Digital Media Group SoLocal

Orrick assisted GLAS Trust Corporation Limited in the recent financial restructuring of SoLocal Group S.A., the leading French provider of digital local media and marketing.

The main creditors involved were the lenders of around €835 million in senior secured bank debt and the holders of €350,000,000 8.875% senior secured notes due 2018 (the “Notes”). The restructuring agreed between the company, its shareholders and its creditors involved a partial cash prepayment of debt and a swap for new notes, warrants, convertible notes and equity. Shareholders received three free shares for every two existing ones held. Overall the restructuring resulted in a two-thirds reduction in debt (from €1.158 billion to €398 million) and greatly reduced leverage ratio. READ MORE

Debtwire European Distressed Debt Market Outlook 2017

 

The 2017 Debtwire European Distressed Debt Outlook report surveyed 100 distressed investors and 30 private equity funds to establish the outlook for 2017.  Jointly sponsored by Orrick and Greenhill, the report predicts that European restructurings will hit their next peak in 2017, with respondents citing interest rate rises (22%), geopolitical conflict (21%) and Brexit (16%) as the most important macroeconomic factors driving this trend.  READ MORE

English Law Schemes of Arrangement: Class Composition

 

Focus on the AB InBev and SABMiller merger

Having received the sanction of antitrust regulators in Europe, the U.S., China and South Africa, the planned merger of brewing giants AB InBev and SABMiller was scrutinised this week by the High Court in London on a topic very familiar to those acquainted with English law restructurings: class composition. The outcome of the hearing, that not all members of SABMiller should be considered to be in the same class for scheme voting purposes, raises some interesting questions around class composition because of the unusual circumstances of the proposed merger. READ MORE

Indah Kiat – A Scheme Pulped

On 12 February 2016 Snowden J handed down his judgment in Indah Kiat International Finance Company B.V. [2016] EWHC 246 (Ch). Indah Kiat International Finance Company B.V. (“Indah Kiat”), part of the global Asia Pulp & Paper Group (one of the world’s largest pulp and paper manufacturers), applied for an order convening a meeting of scheme creditors to consider and, if thought fit, approve a proposed scheme of arrangement (the “Scheme”) under Part 26 of the Companies Act 2006. One creditor, APPIO, opposed the Scheme on various grounds and in this hearing sought an adjournment on the basis that insufficient notice was given to the creditors of the convening hearing.

The Indah Kiat judgment neatly follows a similar judgment of Snowden J in Van Gansewinkel Groep BV [2015] EWCG 2151 (Ch) only a few months earlier. In this case Snowden J took the opportunity to review the current law on jurisdiction relating to schemes of arrangement, and, arguably, to raise the jurisdictional hurdle. He noted that in recent years, schemes of arrangement have been increasingly used to restructure the financial obligations of overseas companies that do not have their centre of main interest or an establishment or any significant assets in England, and stated that companies seeking approval of a scheme would be well advised “to ensure that greater detail is provided, both in the explanatory statement and in the evidence before the court”. Additionally, and more importantly for Indah Kiat, he commented on the judgment in re Telewest Communications plc (No 2) [2005] 1 BCLC 772 that the court will not generally sanction a scheme if it finds a “blot” in the scheme such that the scheme will not have the effect that the company and creditors intend. This is key in the underlying message of Snowden J’s Indah Kiat judgment.

Whilst schemes of arrangement have become increasingly popular to compromise creditors’ claims in a pragmatic manner which may not be available in the jurisdiction of incorporation of the relevant debtor, the judgments in Van Gansewinkel and, more specifically, in Indah Kiat, make it clear that the English courts will not compromise the integrity of this highly effective restructuring tool where the parties invoking the court’s jurisdiction act other than with the “utmost candour”.

READ MORE

VIDEO: Debtwire European Distressed Debt Market Outlook 2016

Orrick partner and co-head of Europe Restructuring Stephen Phillips recently joined a Debtwire panel on potential high yield restructurings in Europe and current volatile market conditions at the 12th European Distressed Debt Market Outlook. Several videos from the launch are now available on Debtwire’s site.

sphillipsdebtwire

For more information, please contact Stephen.

 

Debtwire European Distressed Debt Market Outlook 2016

Distressed investors did not witness the anticipated wave of European high yield restructurings in 2015, but with significant stock market declines and a growing sense of economic anxiety, participants in the 12th European Distressed Debt Market Outlook expect a marked increase in restructuring activity in 2016. Despite improved European growth and stronger U.S. economic data, falling commodity prices (particularly oil) and the higher number of high yield bonds trading at distressed levels suggest another year of volatility is in store.

Orrick partner and co-head of Europe Restructuring Stephen Phillips recently joined the Debtwire panel addressing these issues. For more information, please contact Stephen.

To access the full report, click here.

Orrick Launches Report on Restructuring European High Yield Bonds

Over the past few years the European high yield bond market has been on a roll. Issuance has increased, yields have come down and the default rate has been close to zero. Institutional demand for European high yield bonds has been exceptional. Yet a near zero default rate is an historic anomaly which cannot go on forever. What happens when liquidity dries up and issuers default? How should issuers protect themselves and manage creditors threatening to enforce security? What are the key issues for stakeholders to implement a high yield restructuring? How can conflicts of law be managed where the bond is New York law governed, the intercreditor agreement is English law and the guarantors and assets are spread throughout Europe? Drawing on our European and US restructuring experience we address these issues in our report on Restructuring European High Yield Bonds.

If you would like to receive a printed copy of this report, please let us know.