Turnaround Investing Blog

George Putnam, one of the country's leading turnaround and distressed investing professionals, shares his timely insight on the economy and turnaround investing opportunities.

Bankruptcy/Chapter 11 / Bonds

Distressed Investing: Exploring "The Dark Side"...What To Do When Recovery Unravels

Investing in distressed companies can produce enormous gains. When the recovery is successful, it is not uncommon for the stock to produce multiples of the initial investment and for bonds to generate 50-100% gains along with often-generous interest income. However, not all distressed companies recover, and some decay into bankruptcy. What happens to your investment then?

In The Turnaround Letter’s continuing series on investing in distressed securities, we explore the downside if the recovery unravels.


  • Your company’s recovery didn’t work, so it can try to work out the problems before filing for bankruptcy, or it can file for bankruptcy.
  • Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a company to continue to operate while it restructures its finances and operations.
  • Reorganization plans generally follow the absolute priority of claims in distributing the firm’s value.
  • Equity holders usually get wiped out, while bond holders may get a partial or full recovery.


Your analysis was solid and management did a valiant job of trying to turn around the company; but after two years, it just didn’t work. As Warren Buffett once said, “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.” By some estimates, as many as two-thirds of distressed companies end up in bankruptcy, and your investment is looking like it will join them. How might this play out?

Management may first decide to work out the company’s financial problems with its debt holders (creditors) before it misses an interest payment or breaches a covenant. Creditors may agree to reduce the debt, or perhaps the company agrees to find a buyer and use the proceeds to repay the debt. Creditors may be satisfied with getting a partial return of their capital rather than going through the formal bankruptcy process, as bankruptcy is expensive and time-consuming for everyone.

Once a company misses an interest payment or breaches a covenant, creditors’ rights increase enough that they can force the company into bankruptcy. Management may decide to voluntarily file for bankruptcy to preserve more of their own rights. Bankruptcy allows a company to continue operating while working out a reorganization plan with its creditors.

When a company files for bankruptcy, it falls under the Bankruptcy Court’s formal jurisdiction. The court’s primary focus is to ensure a fair process for allocating value to the claimholders while they maximize the firm’s value. The company can continue to operate the business but significant decisions must get court approval.

An ironic feature of a bankrupt company is that banks will become eager to lend to it. These new lenders get first claim on any assets, along with hefty fees. The company (now the “debtor”) retains control of the business, so this funding is called Debtor-in-Possession, or DIP, financing. DIP financing helps the company operate while in bankruptcy. In our example, your company rounds up $35 million in DIP financing.

So, how will your security fare in bankruptcy? Compared to its scenario where the company rebounds (explored in our previous note), in this case its revenues and profits have declined further, and at a diminished 7x multiple the firm’s enterprise value is only $105 million:

Example: Bankrupt company valuation ($millions)


There $435 million in debt but only $180 million of value to be allocated ($105 million in Enterprise value plus $75 million in cash). Not everyone will get paid in full. In your company’s reorganization plan, following intense negotiations, the waterfall of claims will be paid based on their absolute priority. The most senior creditors get paid first, and only when they are paid in full does the next junior level get paid anything. Your company’s DIP lenders get first dibs, then secured creditors (who have collateral backing their claim), followed by unsecured creditors (bond holders), with equity holders getting whatever is left over.

The DIP financing and secured bank loans are paid in full. The unsecured creditors received 15 cents on the dollar. If you hold one of these bonds, you will receive 15 cents in principal plus two years of interest at 9%, totaling 33 cents in total proceeds per dollar of face value. If you paid only 30 cents, or 30% of par, for your bond, you will get a 10% return. Not a disaster, but not what you were hoping for.

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Return of Volatility? No, Return of "Normal"

Sizeable market moves can increase the temptation to sell on downdrafts and buy on upswings; however, we strongly advise against attempting to do that. The chances of getting out at the right time and then back in again before the market rebounds are extremely slim. Read More.

Harnessing Activists to Help Find Turnaround Stocks

Activist investors often produce attractive returns for their clients; and you can still use their influence to help your position as a turnaround investor in two ways: Buy a position in a stock with the expectation that an activist will soon follow or buy after an activist takes a stake.


Value Investing


While one of the many dozens of activist funds might find their way to selecting your particular stock, this approach is likely to be frustrating and unrewarding. A better approach is to buy after the activist makes their move. Once an activist takes a stake in a company, how do you evaluate whether it is worthwhile to follow on? Admittedly, this is a bit of an art... Learn how you can harness the power of activist investors to find market-beating turnaround stocks.

Turnaround Letter Stock Pick Named Top Performer of 2017


stock market advicex


What Last Year's Top Stock Pickers Are Buying in 2018


This Forbes write-up follows up on the recent Top Stock Tips report--naming The Turnaround Letter's Crocs recommendation the top performer of 2017: With 90% gains, CROX beat out 100 other investment ideas included in the report; and the stock continues to have value investing appeal, according to Putnam.


George notes, "We see additional upside for the stock in 2018 as management's efforts continue to bear fruit, though the gains will likely be more muted than we saw in 2017."