Why Paulson is Wrong
Robert C. Mc Cormack Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance
University of Chicago -GSB
When a profitable company is hit by a very large liability, as was the case in 1985 when
Texaco lost a $12 billion court case against Pennzoil, the solution is not to have the
government buy its assets at inflated prices: the solution is Chapter 11. In Chapter 11,
companies with a solid underlying business generally swap debt for equity: the old equity
holders are wiped out and the old debt claims are transformed into equity claims in the
new entity which continues operating with a new capital structure. Alternatively, the
debtholders can agree to cut down the face value of debt, in exchange for some warrants.
Even before Chapter 11, these procedures were the solutions adopted to deal with the
large railroad bankruptcies at the turn of the twentieth century. So why is this wellestablished
approach not used to solve the financial sectors current problems?
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