As the credit crisis litigation wave has evolved, an increasing number of related lawsuits have “targeted asset management firms and involved complex financial instruments,” according to a new study from NERA Economic Consulting. The June 15, 2009 study, written by Dr. Faten Sabry with her colleagues Anmol Sinha and Sungi Lee, is entitled “An Update on the Credit Crisis Litigation: A Turn Toward Structured Products and Asset Management Firms,” and can be found here.


The study provides an update of what the study describes as “credit crisis filings,” which category includes not only securities cases (i.e. those involving allegations pertaining to the purchase, ownership or sale of securities) but also includes ERISA claims, shareholder derivative actions, individual state and federal cases, and international cases. The category excludes predatory lending, mortgage loan repurchase disputes and actions involving consumer finance.



The study reports that this broad category of “credit crisis filings” increased by 172% in 2008 compared to 2007. The study, which reports data through March 17, 2009, notes that the filing activity shows no sign of slowing in 2009, with 46 “credit crisis filings” through March 17 of this year, compared with 188 in all of 2008 and 69 during 2007.



Though the study reports on a broad category of kinds of filings, even within this broad category, the study found that the percentage of filings that name individual directors and officers as defendants is high – 62% in 2008 and 72% in 2009.



The study found that within the broad category of “credit crisis filings” that while claims against shareholders involved 57% of filings in 2007, they represented only 37% in 2008 and 33% in 2009. The filings over time increasingly have involved other claimants, including auction rate securities investors, non-ARS investors, plan participants, and other plaintiffs. The non-ARS investors include those who invested in preferred securities, corporate bonds, mortgage-backed securities, mutual funds, and money-market funds.



Just as the type of claimants has shifted over time, so too has the type of claim target. The study reports that as the credit crisis has moved from the mortgage-related markets to the overall credit markets, “the focus of the related litigation has also shifted towards more complex financial instruments and different market participants.”



Among other things, the study reports that asset management firms and issuers/underwriters now represent the majority of the defendants named. The percentage of lawsuits involving asset managers more than doubled between 2007 and 2008.



The study includes a particular examination of lawsuits involving collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). As CDOs have experienced increasing numbers of “events of default,” the lawsuits have followed. The CDO-related lawsuits generally allege failures to disclose proper valuations and misrepresentations about the quality of the underlying collateral.



In addition, as the financial crisis has continued, the underlying debt and the indices that are used as reference entities for credit default swaps have declined in value and the providers of CDS protection have experienced significant losses, also resulting in litigation. A key allegation in the CDS lawsuits is the failure to pay the protection promised following the occurrence of certain credit events.



The study notes that though there have been some reported resolutions of the credit crisis cases, which the report describes generally, most cases remain in their earliest stages.

The report concludes by noting that “as the losses continue to mount, it is not clear that the litigation will slow down,” adding that the lawsuits remain in their early stages and the credit crisis story is far from over.”



The study’s update of the credit crisis litigation wave provides useful and interesting analysis of the evolving litigation. Indeed, perhaps as a result of the depth of interesting information and analysis in the study, a variety of additional interesting questions that the data might also answer follows from reading this study.



The study’s aggregation of a wide variety of kinds of claims into a larger category denominated “credit crisis filings” does raise the question of what portions within this larger category each of the included types of claims represents. It would be interesting to see a breakdown within the larger category of “credit crisis filings” how many and what percentage each of the constituent subcategories represents and how they have changed over time. By way of illustration, how many of the “international cases” have there been, and when were they filed?



Similarly, within the category of claims identified in the study as having been filed against directors and officers, it would be interesting to know how these claims break down by lawsuit type.



It would also be interesting if the study’s descriptive analysis of the claims involving CDOs and CDS, which included also descriptions of some representative cases, also included aggregate numerical analysis of claims involving these financial instruments – that is, over time, how many claims have there been involving these kinds of financial instruments, and how have the numbers changed?



The study also specifies that the authors identified a category of claims involving non-ARS investors. It would be interesting to know specifically how many of these claims by each of these kinds of investors have been filed over time. For example, with respect to claims involving investors in preferred or subordinated investors, which I have noted (here) is an increasingly important part of securities lawsuit filings, how many filings have there been? How have the filing numbers changed over time?



Finally, while the report intentionally and by its own terms intends to describe and analyze lawsuit filings trends broader than those just involving securities class action lawsuits, that filing subcategory is generally an area of widespread interest and it would be interesting to have the benefit of the authors’ analysis of this specific subcategory.



All of that said, the study provides an interesting and important overview of the way that the credit crisis litigation wave has evolved over time. We can all hope that the authors will continue to track the filings and to provide further updates as the credit crisis litigation wave continues to evolve.



A complete list of the credit crisis-related securities lawsuit filings is accessible here, and a table reflecting credit-crisis related securities lawsuit case resolutions is accessible here.



Speakers’ Corner: During the period June 21-23, 2009, I will be in Palo Alto, California, where I will be participating as a faculty member at the Stanford Law School Directors’ College. A summary agenda for the event can be found here.