Insolvency administrators expect wave of bankruptcies

Air berlin insolvency administrator lucas flother expects a flood of bankruptcies soon due to the corona crisis. The only question is whether it will come in the fall or not until next year. "The wave of bugs is just building up," he said on wednesday evening in a video conference of the munich business press club.

Karstadt kaufhof, the vapiano and maredo restaurant chains, the hallhuber fashion company and the stadthalle bonn-bad godesberg were the first prominent victims in april to file for bankruptcy or flee under a protective umbrella. In tourism, in the aviation industry, it is not only the revenues that have now completely collapsed – their world will also be different after the crisis: "I don’t believe that you can still fly to majorca for 23 euros. No one flies from berlin to frankfurt for a two-hour meeting anymore," said the spokesman for the "gravenbrucher kreis" of leading insolvency administrators. Flother is also the court-appointed trustee of the ailing vacation airline condor.

There were already "zombies" among automotive suppliers because of e-mobility even before the corona crisis. In retail, the store closures had "turbo-charged amazonization". Hospitality, trade show operators, movie theaters and the cultural industry have also been hit hard by insolvencies, the professor said.

According to the law, any company threatened with insolvency must immediately file for bankruptcy with the local court – to protect all contractual partners and the entire market "from corporate zombies who distort competition and drag others down with them," says flother. However, the federal government has suspended the obligation to file for many companies until the end of september. For many struggling companies, however, this is "just a reassurance pill," said flother. "The danger of pulling out exists in any case."

It would often be better to have an immediate protective shield – a light insolvency procedure for companies that are still solvent and able to restructure. A court-appointed lawyer then controls the board of directors, but the company is protected for three months from the access of creditors, and the wages are paid by the employment agency. "There is a debt cut, there you can also end long-term leases and employment contracts. These are real restructuring tools," said flother. It’s like going to the dentist: painful – but the earlier, the better.

Otherwise, for many, a few "months later, the rude awakening may come, because the bank no longer gives credit". Not only did the banks continue to use their own money to bail out the companies, they could even be prosecuted for aiding and abetting insolvency filibustering.

Professor volker romermann, head of the institute for insolvency law in hanover, had already warned of a boomerang effect. The aid "will save some, but rub many deeper into the maelstrom".

The number of insolvencies had been rising for years. According to the federal statistical office, only 18,749 companies filed for bankruptcy last year, three percent fewer than the year before. "These were lean years for insolvency administrators. Many law firms are going out of business," said flother. Nevertheless, there are still enough to cope with the wave of bankruptcies: "we have enough intensive care beds."

What an insolvency administrator earns is decided by the court and usually remains a secret. Michael frege, insolvency administrator of the german lehman brothers subsidiary, made headlines after the financial crisis with almost 500 million euros, the highest fee ever paid in germany. But he also employed more than 100 lawyers and accountants for nine years, along with an army of employees, and collected all the outstanding debts on behalf of the creditors: 17 billion euros.

The corona crisis is even worse than the financial crisis because it is affecting the entire economy, flother said. Nevertheless, the golden age of insolvency administrators is not upon us. Because they could now look for rescuers, for investors for a long time. At condor, the polish airline lot has just jumped ship again. "For example, a hotel in the harz mountains, who buys that? No one!"

And when hedge funds or chinese investors are lurking around for favorable offers, the keyword is "selling off the german mittelstand"? Administrators and insolvency administrators always had to decide in favor of the creditor, not in the interest of the company or the jobs, stressed flother.

The obligation to file for insolvency may be suspended until march. At the latest thereafter, "the sick animals were dying and being eaten.". Already today, companies increasingly doubted the solvency of others and worked only against advance payment. Unfortunately, shareholders of ailing companies were also able to "get their sheep in the dry" during the deadline without liability, to the detriment of the believers.

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