LIBOR Transition: Hardwired Language Rewired

Last week was quite eventful in the world of LIBOR transition, from the ARRC’s SOFR Symposium, to the passage of LIBOR transition legislation in New York for tough legacy contracts, to the release of supplemental fallback language for syndicated and bilateral loans. The hardwired language has come a long way- the original version was barely used, but the update last summer has achieved broad adoption in new and amended loans. What does the latest iteration have to offer, and is it worth adopting at this point?

Compared to the various versions of amendment approach language that have evolved in the market, the hardwired approach offers parties more certainty as to what the replacement benchmark will look like. The details that remain tend to be more administrative in nature and are hopefully less prone to disputes. That said, the 2020 hardwired language is hardly simple or easy to understand. Many of the details, such as the end date for LIBOR, the availability of SOFR and the spread adjustment, remained unresolved when the language came out. This necessitated drafting in the alternative and using broad descriptive language to cover concepts that would develop in the future.

Fast forward eight months to the March 5, 2020 announcements of the FCA and the IBA, and clarity on those and certain other details is now here. Rather than saying that LIBOR will one day be phased out, the date is fixed. Although Term SOFR is still a question mark, daily simple SOFR is operational now, so there is no need for loan parties to fumble around trying to figure out what the replacement rate should be. The formal announcement of the end of LIBOR also set the market-agreed calculation of the SOFR spread adjustments, which Bloomberg dutifully computed the same day.

All of these are good changes to update in the hardwired language. The question remains whether they are worth adopting at this time. In concept, it is simple enough to update the template forms for new loans. However, it involves more effort, coordination and time than one might expect and introduces yet another variation in the loan portfolio. The backdrop for these changes is that by the end of 2021, and preferably sooner, all lenders should stop originating LIBOR loans, even with updated hardwired language, and only originate SOFR loans. Different lenders are at different stages of readiness for this task, with some ready to make SOFR loans in the coming weeks and months, and others likely to be pushing the New Year’s Eve deadline. It is a monumental task involving many departments at a bank and requires substantial drafting and thought.

To the extent that revising the hardwired language detracts from this effort, a lender might determine that the existing hardwired language is good enough for the remaining LIBOR loans that it will make this year. If a lender is switching to SOFR by mid-year, it may not be so many loans. The ARRC drafted the 2020 language to encompass the SOFR future, however that future might develop. The value of the updated ARRC language is that it takes the recent developments and shows market participants the practical effect those developments have on the SOFR future. This benefit can be obtained whether or not the updated language is actually implemented in any particular loan agreement.

 

Duane Morris’ LIBOR Transition Team:  Roger S. Chari, Chair, Joel N. EphrossAmelia (Amy) H. HuskinsPhuong (Michelle) Ngo, and Han Wang.

Is There Room for AMERIBOR in a SOFR Future?

With the phase out of LIBOR just over a year away and the ARRC having identified the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) as its preferred replacement for US dollar loans, it appears that the market has the guidance it needs to make the transition.

Not so fast, say some Main Street banks.  SOFR may work for much of the loan market and particularly larger banks that can borrow on a secured basis. However, this does not represent the reality for many smaller and regional banks, which often can borrow only on an unsecured basis. Using SOFR can lead to a mismatch between the borrowing risk that such banks take and the interest they can earn on their loans.

What are such banks to do?  Some of them have voiced their support for an alternative LIBOR replacement rate―the American Interbank Offered Rate (AMERIBOR).

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A Hot Issue for a Hot Summer: Time to Understand ISDA IBOR Benchmark Fallbacks

As we patiently wait for the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) to publish its long planned IBOR Fallback Protocol and IBOR Fallback Supplement for interest rate derivatives, we thought we would highlight some recent announcements on the topic.

According to ISDA’s letter on July 22, 2020 to the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC), ISDA planned to finalize the Protocol and the Supplement by the end of July.  On July 29, 2020, ISDA announced that it would publish the Protocol “soon”.  This is hardly the first time that things have been delayed, but it’s important to get it right.  Among other things, it’s possible that ISDA is still waiting for a positive business review letter from the US Department of Justice and similar feedback from competition authorities in other jurisdictions.

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For LIBOR Transition Procrastinators, SOFR Starter Kit to the Rescue!

LIBOR is going away.  It was a distant pronouncement in 2017, and many thought it wouldn’t happen, or would get delayed.  But it’s coming.  Soon.  December 31, 2021 may still seem a long way off, but there’s a lot to do between now and then.  Market participants may be forgiven for concentrating on the global pandemic the last few months, but regulators in many arenas have stepped up their efforts in the past month to get the word out on LIBOR transition and get everyone moving forward on the right track.

Following its Summer Series on LIBOR transition, on August 7, 2020, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee of the New York Fed published the SOFR Starter Kit, a set of factsheets to inform the public about the transition away from USD LIBOR to SOFR. The SOFR Starter Kit is intended to ensure market readiness for the transition and help participants in markets using USD LIBOR to quickly familiarize themselves with the background information of, and main issues related to, the transition. The SOFR Starter Kit has three parts:

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Hardwired for a Smoother LIBOR Transition?

The London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), which has served as a reference rate for approximately $350 trillion of debt and derivatives, will be phased out after December 31, 2021. In the United States, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC), convened by the Federal Reserve Board and the New York Fed, has been tasked with ensuring a successful transition from USD LIBOR to a more robust reference rate. In June 2017, the ARRC identified the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) as its recommended alternative to USD LIBOR. In April 2019, the ARRC first published recommended fallback language for syndicated business loans. At the time, the recommendations provided two approaches: an “amendment approach”―which delays all decisions about the successor rate and adjustment until a future date―and a “hardwired approach”―which hardwires the priority of replacement rates to be selected into the credit agreement upon origination based on what replacement rates are available at the time of replacement and provides for an easier amendment of related terms.

The syndicated lending market has largely adopted the amendment approach so far. In June 2020, however, the ARRC released refreshed recommendations regarding fallback language for U.S. dollar-denominated syndicated business loans that reference LIBOR. Unlike the April 2019 recommendations, the June 2020 recommendations provide only for hardwired fallback provisions. Read on to see how our Alert, published today, can help you discern the differences between the hardwired approach and the amendment approach and determine which works best for you.

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ARRC Pumps Up the Summer Heat on LIBOR Transition

While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage the past few months, the transition away from LIBOR has been continuing in the background, almost unnoticed at times.   Some market participants have questioned whether the disruption caused by COVID-19 will delay the LIBOR transition process.  The proposed timelines have stretched a bit, but regulatory authorities have been adamant that the December 31, 2021 deadline remains firm.

Earlier this month, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee of the New York Federal Reserve (ARRC) began a full court press to make the case for transitioning to SOFR and guide market participants to that goal.  Tom Wipf, the chair of the ARRC, spoke at webinars hosted by the Loan Syndications & Trading Association (LSTA) and the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA).  The ARRC also kicked off a SOFR Summer Series of webinars open to the public.  The speakers include many top officials and industry leaders, and their insight is invaluable.  There are also lively questions and answers from the moderator and the internet audience.

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