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.

LIBOR Transition: Legacy Loans on the Backburner

Now that the formal end dates for LIBOR have been announced by the FCA, it’s time to consider some of the practical implications  of the announcement. With the original end date scheduled for the end of 2021, many in the market breathed a collective sigh of relief at the possibility of an extension of the deadline. Among all the other complicated tasks to be completed before LIBOR’s demise, getting borrowers, many of which are oblivious to the  coming change, to amend the millions of legacy loans originated before the end of LIBOR was even contemplated is a particularly daunting one.

Although the 1-week and 2-month US dollar LIBOR tenors will still end on December 31, 2021, the 1-month, 3-month and 6-month LIBOR tenors used in the majority of loans will now end on June 30, 2023. By design, this extension has a number of effects. First, it reduces the number of legacy loans that will need to be amended to replace LIBOR, since some of those loans will expire by their terms during the additional time period. Second, it gives a lender more leverage to amend some of its loans. A borrower that wants to extend a loan that is expiring or that wants or needs an amendment or waiver during such time will not be able to just say no to a new interest rate. Third, for all legacy loans, it gives lenders more time to prepare for and explain to their borrowers the coming change.

Delaying the amendment of legacy loans is not entirely advantageous to lenders. Since lenders will not be permitted to originate new LIBOR loans after 2021, extending the wind down of LIBOR lengthens the period of time during which lenders will have to maintain and keep track of LIBOR and the replacement rates. Delaying amendment of legacy loans will also delay adoption of the new rates, which can hinder their success, for example in the development of Term SOFR.

Still, with all the other tasks that remain to be completed, it’s good to be able to put a major part of the work on the back burner to focus on getting replacement rates operational. Legacy loans are not completely out of mind—the LSTA should be coming out soon with sample forms of LIBOR transition amendments and notices for syndicated loans, which can be modified for other loans. Perhaps by the time comes for them to be used, the transition of legacy loans will not be such an insurmountable task.

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

LIBOR Transition: Is a Universal Descriptive Amendment the Answer to Amending All Those Loan Agreements?

Until now, LIBOR replacement amendments have mostly consisted of placeholder language that describes the process and principles that the parties will follow to transition to a new rate while the market works out the details of how the new rate will work. The variations have included a consensual amendment approach, a hardwired approach of mutually agreed preferred alternative rates with the lender to determine the details, and a lender discretion approach where the borrower has little if any say in what the replacement will look like.

Now that the phase out of LIBOR is on the horizon and the replacement details are starting to come together, it’s time to focus on what the actual amendments to delete LIBOR and insert a new rate into the countless LIBOR loan agreements should look like.  A traditional amendment approach would use surgical precision to delete every LIBOR definition and go section by section, and perhaps even sentence by sentence or line by line, to delete the use and effect of LIBOR throughout the agreement, then do the same thing to add in the provisions for the new rate.  This approach depends on detailed due diligence of the underlying loan agreements.  Absolute precision is required to do it right- if the wrong term is used because a template definition was changed in a particular loan agreement, or the wrong section is referred to because a template provision was moved in a particular loan agreement, the amendment will also be wrong and won’t work.  Precision takes time and money, and it’s not clear that borrowers will want to honor their obligations to pay for expensive loan amendments that they never wanted in the first place.

Since no one is perfect, should we just tolerate sloppy drafting when it happens, or is there a better way?  As complicated as it can be to amend countless loan agreements, the concept is simple—after a specified date, all LIBOR terms and provisions will be deleted and replaced with new SOFR (or Ameribor or some other rate) provisions.  Why can’t the amendment just say that?  The drafting required isn’t literally that simple, but this type of universal descriptive amendment should be able to amend almost any loan agreement without knowing exactly what LIBOR terms are used, exactly where they are used or exactly what the LIBOR provisions say.

Our recent Alert discusses how a universal descriptive amendment might work and the potential advantages it may have to successfully achieve LIBOR transition.

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

LIBOR Transition: Is It Really Necessary to Review Every Single Loan Agreement?

As lenders start to prepare for the transition from LIBOR, practical concerns as to how to implement the change are coming to the forefront.  Many sources have highlighted the need for lenders to review the loan agreements in their portfolios, but not many have given much insight on the actual scope of review that is needed.

Best practices dictate that every loan agreement should be reviewed to see exactly what LIBOR terms are used, exactly where they are used and exactly what the LIBOR provisions say.  Even if a lender’s loan agreements generally follow a template, there are bound to be a few that vary.  Unless there is already a reliable list of these variances, all the loan agreements (in a perfect world) need to be reviewed to find these few that vary.  In larger, more negotiated loan portfolios, these loans that vary may be more than just a few.

All of this is obviously expensive and time consuming.  Is there a better way?  Our recent Alert explores that question.

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

LIBOR Transition: The Protocol is Coming! The Supplement is Coming!

As we noted in our prior blog post over the summer, the IBOR Fallbacks Protocol and the IBOR Fallbacks Supplement for interest rate derivatives to be published by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) has been on hold while ISDA waits for a positive business review letter from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). This past Friday, ISDA issued a press release that it received the letter from the DOJ on October 1, 2020.

The DOJ letter does not foreclose the possibility that other regulators in Australia, Canada, the European Union and other jurisdictions may raise their own objections. However, the Board of Directors of ISDA has determined that it will release the Supplement and Protocol on Friday, October 23, 2020, and the Supplement and Protocol will take effect approximately three months later on Monday, January 25, 2021. The draft Supplement and draft Protocol have been posted for review, together with a FAQ,  sample adoption amendments and descriptive outline.

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LIBOR Transition: Time Marches on for Non-Bank Lenders and Asset Managers

Tick-tock. No, not the controversial social networking platform. That’s the sound of time slipping away on the existence of LIBOR. Regulated bank lenders are at varying stages in their transition to a new interest rate, with some even testing the waters originating new loans bearing interest based on SOFR.  Non-bank lenders and asset managers are no less subject to the phase out of LIBOR, but for many the transition process is not quite so far along.

For those who missed it, our new partner, Anastasia Kaup, wrote an informative Alert outlining some of the developments in LIBOR transition over the summer and some of the developments yet to come.  Since the summer, at least one syndicated loan has reportedly been originated using the ARRC recommended hardwired approach. However, it remains to be seen whether the rest of the market will follow or stick with the amendment approach and simply go straight to SOFR amendments. It’s still a bit early for SOFR amendments, but the LSTA is working on a sample for the syndicated loan market based on a form that Duane Morris developed.  Our Alert highlights some of the LIBOR transition issues for non-bank lenders and asset managers to consider as we march towards the end of the year.

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

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Deadlines are Fast Approaching

As two of the largest participants in the lending market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the “GSEs”) are busy preparing for the transition away from LIBOR.  Both GSEs have established milestones for beginning acquisition and issuance of SOFR-indexed products and ceasing LIBOR-indexed products.  Below are reminders of important deadlines:

Single-Family (“SF”) ARMs and Securities:

August 3, 2020 Fannie Mae began accepting delivery of SOFR-indexed ARMs.
September 30, 2020 LIBOR applications end. All LIBOR loans must have Application Received Date on or before this date.
November 16, 2020 Freddie Mac will begin accepting delivery of SOFR-indexed ARMs.
December 1, 2020 This the last MBS/Guarantor PC issue date for LIBOR-indexed ARM pools.
December 31, 2020 This is the last date for cash/whole loan purchase of LIBOR-indexed ARMs.

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To Hardwire or Not to Hardwire?

The question is not nearly as existential as the question phrased by William Shakespeare, but it is a significant one in the lending world as the transition from LIBOR to SOFR ideally happens by the middle of next year.  The official answer is easy—hardwired LIBOR transition language is recommended by the ARRC for syndicated loans and bilateral loans.  For diligent lenders, adopting hardwired language is part of a proactive approach to addressing the LIBOR transition process.  By setting the broad parameters of the new rate up front now, the ultimate details of implementing the new rate can be simplified with a notice to the borrower rather than negotiating an amendment in the future when time is short. Our prior Alert discusses the hardwired approach in more detail.

Still, for some lenders there are solid reasons to adopt a wait and see approach and possibly skip the hardwired language.  These lenders are no less diligent in their desire to do the right thing, but the developments in the LIBOR/SOFR transition are starting to accelerate, with major details still unsettled at this point.  Determining how the broad market will handle the transition and keeping a lender’s actions in line with the market without getting ahead of the developments may suggest a more cautious approach.

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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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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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