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Bankruptcy filings by big firms fell 17% last year

Fewer big companies are going out of business.

The number of publicly traded companies filing for bankruptcy declined in 2011 for the third straight year to levels last seen before the 2008 global financial crisis, according to BankruptcyData.com.

Eighty-eight public companies entered bankruptcy proceedings last year, a 17% drop from the 106 filings the previous year and down 58% from 211 filings in 2009, according to the website. The figures cover both Chapter 11 petitions for companies seeking to restructure and Chapter 7 filings for those planning to go out of business.

MF Global Holdings Inc., the collapsed financial firm that was headed by Jon Corzine, the former governor of New Jersey, was the largest company to file for bankruptcy. Other large companies included AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, and bookseller Borders Group Inc.

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The average asset size of companies filing for bankruptcy last year was $1.2 billion, up from $840 million in 2010, largely because of the $41-billion bankruptcy of MF Global, the eighth-largest in U.S. history.

The data indicate that larger companies are regaining their footing after a surge in bankruptcy filings during the financial crisis.

But it’s unclear whether the trend will continue. Some experts predict a spike this year as companies that borrowed heavily before the financial crisis could run into trouble as the debt must be paid off.

“I expect to see an increase in large bankruptcies in 2012 as some of the massive amount of debt that was issued before 2008 begins to come due,” said George Putnam, founder of BankruptcyData.com’s parent company, New Generation Research Inc.

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The decline in large corporate filings parallels a recent drop in personal bankruptcies.

The number of Americans filing for personal bankruptcy fell 12% last year, as 1.35 million Americans entered Chapter 7 or 13, according to an analysis for the National Bankruptcy Research Center by Columbia Law School professor Ronald Mann.

That’s down from more than 1.5 million filings in 2010, when about 1 in 150 Americans filed for bankruptcy. Last year, the ratio was 1 in 175.

walter.hamilton@latimes.com


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