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C Street launches LME comms group

February 13 / 9fin - C Street, the communications firm founded by former bankruptcy attorney Jon Henes, is launching a new group dedicated to liability management exercises, 9fin can reveal.

The new effort will be led by Luke Wolf, a managing director, and Whitney Fogelberg, who is C Street’s first partner-level hire. Fogelberg joined C Street last week from Kirkland & Ellis where, like Henes, she was a partner in the restructuring group.

The definition of liability management has expanded in recent years to include a growing list of tools — including distressed exchanges, dropdowns, uptiering and double-dip financings — that companies can use to restructure their debt.

As 9fin has previously reported, last year was particularly active for large-scale liability management exercises, and a quick look at some of our news flow so far this year suggests that 2024 is shaping up to be even busier.

The fact that C Street — known primarily for its services surrounding in-court restructurings for companies like WeWorkBed Bath & BeyondBlockfi and David’s Bridal — is launching a practice dedicated to LME transactions reflects the increasing importance of these out-of-court deals in today’s credit markets.

"I don’t think every company is right for a bankruptcy filing, and today, the credit markets have evolved from hedge funds who would convert debt to equity to direct lenders and CLOs who want to maintain their debt,” said Fogelberg in an exclusive interview with 9fin.

“That’s one reason why liability management transactions are increasing. There are the highly publicized ones that don’t ultimately work out, but there are a lot that do work out."

Narrative management

According to 9fin data, nearly 20% of the $81bn bonds and loans maturing this year are in the stressed or distressed category. Next year could be even bigger, with 17% of the $252bn of bonds and loans due in 2025 marked as stressed or distressed.

Source: 9fin

This is expected to drive more LME activity. These increasingly complex restructurings often feature creative financial engineering and are negotiated out of court, and therefore require a deep understanding of credit documents and often involve multiple teams at law firms.

"There is a cross-section of people who work on these complex deals,” said Fogelberg. “Many are debt finance people who know the documents and develop the initial capital structure strategies. At the same time, restructuring attorneys are involved to understand the alternatives to the liability management transaction and help in the negotiations.”

These transactions also often involve multiple classes of creditors, with different outcomes and incentives — hence the popular term ‘creditor-on-creditor violence’. This creates opportunities for communications firms to help shape and manage narratives, said Fogelberg.

“These transactions are complex and, without proper communications guidance, are misunderstood by mainstream publications and not really explained all that well,” she said.

“There’s definitely a void in the communications process related to these transactions, and that’s what C Street is filling."

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