The number of publicly traded companies that filed for bankruptcy protection under either Chapter 7 or Chapter 11 declined in 2011, compared to the year prior, although the 2011 bankrupt companies collectively  listed greater amounts of pre-petition assets than 2010 bankrupt public companies did, according to data recently released by (here).


According to the report, 86 publicly traded companies filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011, compared to 106 in 2010, and compared to 211 in 2009. The number of 2011 filings represents a 17% decline from the prior year, and nearly a 60% decline from 2009. Though the number of public companies filing for bankruptcy declined in 2011, the 2011 public company bankruptcies represented aggregate pre-petition assets of $104 billion, compared to $89.1 billion in assets in 2010. The 2009 public company bankruptcies represented $281 billion in assets.


The company average pre-petition assets rose to $1.2 billion in 2011 from $840 million in 2010. The increase in aggregate and average assets that the 2011 bankruptcies represent is largely a factor of two very large public company bankruptcies during the year: the $40.5 billion asset MF Global bankruptcy and the $25 billion AMR Corporation bankruptcy. Those two bankruptcies alone represented more than close to two thirds of all of the aggregate 2011 asset value. The MF Global bankruptcy represents the eighth largest U.S. bankruptcy of all times. None of the bankruptcies in 2010 are among the top ten. The two large 2011 public company bankruptcies had the effect of driving up the average bankruptcy size during the year.


The report notes that the increase in aggregate and average pre-petition asset size during 2011 is “all the more striking considering the low number of financial company bankruptcy filings” during the year. Bankruptcies in the Banking & Finance industry “typically reflect a higher pre-petition asset figure than other industries.” But there were only four public company bankruptcies in the sector during 2011, compared with 2010, when 21 of the 106 public traded bankruptcies involved companies in the Banking & Finance sector.


The sector with the largest number of 2011 bankruptcies was Health Care & Medical, which had a total of 11 bankruptcies; followed by Technology and Energy which each had nine filings each.


Though the number of public company bankruptcies has declined in each of the last two years, the public company bankruptcies remained at elevated levels. The 86 public company bankruptcies in 2011, though below the annual totals in 2010 and 2009, are above the totals in the years preceding the credit crisis and going all the way back to 2005, when there were also 86 public company bankruptcies.


In terms of what may lie ahead, the report includes the comments of one observer, George Putnam III, the founder of New Generation Research,’s parent company, as saying that, “I expect to see an increase in bankruptcies in 2012 as some of the massive amount of debt that was issued before 2008 begins to come due.” These comments about the likely bankruptcy levels are consistent with other public commentaries (refer here) that have also suggested that 2012 could be a busy year for business bankruptcies.


A January 10, 2012 Los Angeles Times article about the public company bankruptcy data can be found here.