Germany: Corporate Acquisitions Through Debt-Equity Swaps in Germany

Last Updated: 1 August 2006

By Dr. Markus Bauer

The German economy has experienced minimal growth for a number of years. Insolvencies have reached record levels, and the number of businesses outside of formal insolvency proceedings, but in need of restructuring, is significant. Recently, however, a number of positive factors have fueled hopes for a revival of the German economy. There has been a strong increase in German industrial production activity and a substantial increase in the generation of new orders and capital expenditures by German businesses. Agreements with employees regarding wage and salary increases have been moderate on the whole, and financing conditions for businesses have been favorable. Although German companies have undergone significant operational restructuring in the past, many continue to exhibit weak balance sheets.

Not surprisingly, economic stagnation and record insolvency levels have left many German banks with large amounts of bad debt on their books. Estimates of aggregated bad debt range from €160 to €300 billion. German banks have historically held bad debt due to strong customer ties. However, beginning in 2003 and continuing in 2004 and 2005, German banks have sold non-performing loan portfolios as well as loans to single borrowers. Banks have become motivated to sell their non-performing loans for a number of reasons. Among them are the new risk-weighting criteria introduced by the Basel II banking accord, which will significantly increase the equity costs associated with banks holding non-performing assets and therefore create a strong incentive for them to sell.

The current market conditions provide excellent investment opportunities with respect to distressed companies and have attracted international investors, particularly U.S. investors who are familiar with distressed asset transactions. Investors typically acquire high-risk loans to companies with turnaround potential at a purchase price significantly below par. They attempt to generate high returns by performing an intensive workout of the acquired loans, usually in connection with a restructuring of the target company.

Structure of the Investment

The structure of the investment depends largely on the needs of the target company. While the specific restructuring measures are normally identified on a case-by-case basis by means of a restructuring plan drafted by turnaround advisors, target companies are invariably in need of new funds and a reduction of their debt burden.

The recapitalization of a distressed company typically involves a reduction of its statutory share capital to reflect the real amount of equity remaining after netting out historical losses. The registered share capital is then increased and new equity is contributed either in the form of cash or by releasing the company from a portion of its debt (debt-equity swap). Frequently, both types of capital increase are combined. The deal structures in this context are flexible and can be adapted to the requirements of different types of investors. Traditional private equity investors typically will seek to acquire 100 percent of the corporate debt in order to take control of the target company after the debt-equity swap and realize their return through an exit after three to five years. More passive investors, on the other hand, might only seek to provide financial resources for the restructuring without taking an active role in the process. These investors are more inclined to execute a modified debt-equity swap where instead of shares, they take convertible bonds or similar mezzanine instruments that are flexible and can be tailored to the specific needs of the investor. Over and above the actual capital measures, the investor may have to provide new lending facilities to the company and/or extend the maturity of any loans remaining after the debt-equity swap.

A successful implementation of a debt-equity swap transaction requires both (i) substantial restructuring expertise and an in-depth knowledge of the target's industry by the investor and (ii) the full support of at least a majority of the existing shareholders. If these conditions are fulfilled, the debt-equity swap can both save the target company from a possible winding-up and be a very interesting investment.

A number of issues under German law need to be addressed when implementing an investment that involves a debt-equity swap.

Restructuring Plan

Before undertaking the investment, an investor will need to convince himself of the turnaround potential of the target company. Normally, a restructuring plan drawn up by turnaround advisors on the instructions of the target company will be available. Management of a German company in financial difficulty is required to explore restructuring opportunities. Management typically will involve external turnaround specialists when approaching banks for new loans. In order to avoid lender liability exposure, banks will extend loans to companies in financial difficulty only after a restructuring plan has been drawn up that demonstrates that the company is capable of being successfully restructured. The German Institute of Chartered Accountants (Institut der Wirtschaftsprüfer) requires a restructuring plan to set forth an analysis of the situation of the company together with the causes of the crisis and to specify the concrete measures that need to be implemented in order to return the company to profitability, including any necessary contributions by the various stakeholders (e.g., investors, existing shareholders, employees, creditors, etc.).

Consent of Existing Shareholders

To restructure a company successfully through a debt-equity swap transaction, it is important to obtain the consent of at least a majority of the existing shareholders, for both legal and practical reasons. The implementation of the capital measures, in particular the capital decrease and the ensuing capital increase, requires approval by the existing shareholders. Depending on the corporate form of the target and the provisions in the articles of association, the required shareholder approval percentage is usually at least 75 percent. In order to allow the investor to subscribe to the desired number of shares, the subscription rights of the existing shareholders must be waived. In order to convince shareholders whose shareholdings are being diluted that this waiver is necessary for the implementation of the restructuring, the support of a majority of the shareholders and the management of the company is vital. The same is also true for the discussions with the tax and securities authorities regarding necessary exemptions, which are described in more detail below.

Where the investor is unable or unwilling to obtain the consent of the existing management and shareholders to the investment and wants to pursue a more hostile approach, he can theoretically purchase the loans without the consent of the target company, provided that the bank — which typically has a long-standing business relationship with the target — is willing to sell. As the new owner of the non-performing loans, the investor then has significant leverage in the negotiations with management and shareholders. While an acquisition of shares may need to be disclosed, there are no disclosure obligations regarding the holding of certain portions of outstanding corporate debt. Needless to say, the risk that the investor will not achieve his aims with respect to equity in the target company is much higher with a hostile approach than with a consensual approach.

Acquisition of the Loans

Once the investor has decided to invest, he must acquire the company's debt from the banks. The level of complexity associated with the debt acquisition varies greatly, depending on the structure of the loans, the security (in particular if a security pool agreement is in place), and the selling bank(s) involved. Providing information regarding the loans and the debtor to the investor during a due diligence review can be an issue under German banking secrecy rules unless management has consented to the investment and agrees to the provision of due diligence information to the investor.

The acquisition of the loans can be structured as (i) a subparticipation in the loans and the underlying security, (ii) an assignment of the claims under the loans and the security, or (iii) a complete transfer of the loan agreements and the security agreements. A complete transfer of the loan agreements will usually be chosen where revolving or partially undrawn credit lines are acquired that need to remain available to the company. A transfer requires the consent of all the parties to the agreements that are being transferred and is more complicated as a result. If the loan is part of a syndicated loan or the underlying security is subject to a security pooling agreement, the bank must also transfer its contractual position under these agreements in order to allow the investor to assert his rights against the other members of the syndicate or the security pool. Under German law, the transfer of these contractual positions requires the consent of all other members of the syndicate or the security pool, which adds to the complexity and may delay the process.

Specific issues arise where the loans are secured by a government guaranty. The investor is well advised to approach the government at an early stage because its approval is generally required for a transfer of the guaranty to the investor. In any case, the investor and his advisors must ensure that the contractual positions assigned to the investor allow him to implement the workout strategy, in particular, contribution of the loans to the company in the debt-equity swap and the associated release of security.

Restructuring in Formal Insolvency Proceedings

In Germany, companies in financial difficulty are usually restructured outside of formal insolvency proceedings. The impact of a formal insolvency proceeding on business relations with suppliers and customers is usually severe, and there is a substantial risk that key employees will leave the company due to speculation that the company will be unable to continue with its business operations. However, the high volume of insolvencies in recent years has resulted in a number of successful restructurings in formal insolvency proceedings. Examples such as these are beginning to change the stakeholders' perception that a formal insolvency process will most probably result in a winding-up of the business.

Formal insolvency proceedings offer a number of advantages for the restructuring of the company, in particular the ability to terminate (and possibly renegotiate the terms of) contracts and the easing of restrictions on the dismissal of employees. Restructuring in formal insolvency proceedings is achieved by means of an insolvency plan. It can be proposed by the insolvent company itself as a prepackaged plan in conjunction with the commencement of insolvency proceedings. The plan can be freely arranged and include all provisions that could be made in an ordinary restructuring agreement (e.g., waiver and deferral of claims, alteration of security, an undertaking of the investor to contribute the acquired loans and/or to provide new capital to the company, or an undertaking of a stakeholder to extend financing to the company to fund the reorganization).

Increasingly, an insolvency plan proposal is combined with a motion for "self-management" by the management of the insolvent company, which is similar to the concept of a chapter 11 "debtor in possession" under U.S. law. Under self-management, the management of the insolvent company remains in control of business operations but is placed under the supervision of a creditors' trustee. To date, German insolvency courts have rarely left management in control, generally appointing an insolvency administrator who takes control of the company's business operations. Self-management has the distinct advantage of retaining the experience and market know-how of existing management. An insolvency administrator who is unfamiliar with the company and its operations has very little time to acquaint himself with the business. The chances of prevailing on a motion for self-management can be improved if the insolvent company appoints proven restructuring experts to its board prior to filing an insolvency application. The main advantage of self-management is that the identity and expertise of the personnel who will be implementing the restructuring are known to the stakeholders at the outset of the proceedings. Investors are much more reluctant to invest if it is unclear who is managing the business, and whether such manager will implement the restructuring plan, as is frequently the case when an insolvency administrator is appointed.

Valuation of the Debt

During the course of a debt-equity swap, the non-performing loans will be contributed to the target company as a contribution in kind in exchange for the issuance of new shares that are issued in connection with the increase in the target's capital. If the loans are contributed to a corporation (either a stock corporation ("AG") or a limited liability company ("GmbH")) or by a limited partner of a limited partnership ("KG"), the fair market value of the contribution (i.e., the claims against the target company based upon the loans) must be at least equal to the nominal value of the shares or partnership interest issued for it. Should the fair market value of the contribution in kind be below the nominal value of the shares, the investor runs the risk that (i) the commercial register will refuse to register and thus prevent the capital increase, or (ii) if the deficiency in the value is discovered after the registration, the investor will be personally liable to pay the shortfall. Because in turnaround situations the fair market value of the loan will be substantially below its nominal value, the exact value has to be determined by means of an expert opinion of an auditor. In the case of a capital increase in a stock corporation, such opinion has to be provided by a court-appointed neutral auditor. In the case of a limited liability company, an expert opinion will typically be requested by the commercial register before the capital increase is registered.

Equitable Subordination of Loans

Typically, an investor will convert only a portion of the purchased loans into equity and will retain the remainder in the form of shareholder loans. Shareholder loans to a company in financial difficulty may be subject to the rules of equitable subordination and may be treated as if they were equity. During an insolvency, equitably subordinated loans rank behind the claims of normal creditors. Outside of formal insolvency, the company may be entitled to refrain from repaying such loans until its financial difficulties have been resolved.

In order to provide an incentive for investors to provide new funds to distressed companies, the rules of equitable subordination were modified by the introduction of the so-called restructuring privilege. Under these rules, existing and new loans by an investor will not be subject to the rules of equitable subordination, provided that the investor becomes a shareholder of the company in a crisis situation with the aim of restructuring the company. Nevertheless, an investor should carefully review whether the requirements of the restructuring privilege have been met.

Tax Exemption for "Restructuring Profits"

Because the nominal amount of the shares issued as consideration for the contribution of the non-performing loans in a debt-equity swap will be significantly lower than the nominal amount of such debt on the books of the company, the target company will show a restructuring profit in the amount of the difference. If this restructuring profit were subject to regular taxation (i.e., income and trade tax), the benefits of the restructuring to the company would be largely eliminated.

In order to address this conflict between the taxation of restructuring profits and the aim of the German Insolvency Code to facilitate the restructuring of a distressed company, the German Federal Finance Ministry on March 27, 2003, issued a letter to the state tax authorities providing that income tax on restructuring profits shall be deferred and subsequently waived under the principles of equity (sachliche Billigkeitsgründe) if the following conditions are met: the company is (i) in a crisis but (ii) capable of being restructured and (iii) the tax waiver is a suitable and sufficient restructuring measure and (iv) the investor intends to restructure the company. The tax authorities will normally require the company to provide them with its restructuring plan to determine whether these conditions have been fulfilled.

Once the tax authority has qualified the profits as privileged restructuring profits and agreed to defer and waive the respective income tax, the company can apply to the municipality where the company's operations are located for a similar decision with respect to the trade tax. Although these are two separate proceedings and the municipality is not bound by the decision of the tax authority, the municipality generally follows the lead of the tax authority, particularly if the waiver of the trade tax is necessary for a successful restructuring of the company and the decision will keep jobs and a (potential) taxpayer in the city.

Exemption From Mandatory Tender Offer

If the target company is listed on a stock exchange, the rules of the German Takeover Code (Wertpapiererwerbs- und Übernahmegesetz) apply. Pursuant to the German Takeover Code, an investor who acquires shares in a listed company as a result of a debt-equity swap or otherwise and subsequently directly or indirectly holds at least 30 percent of the voting rights in the company must make a mandatory tender offer for all of the remaining shares of the company. This obligation generally makes any debt-equity swap transaction regarding a public company unattractive for an investor who, alone or jointly with other investors, intends to take a controlling interest in the company in order to implement the restructuring plan. In order to address this concern, the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht, or "BaFin") may exempt an investor from the obligation to make a tender offer if the investor gains control of the target company in connection with the restructuring of the company.

The decision to grant an exemption is in the discretion of BaFin. However, the exemption will generally be granted if the interests of the other shareholders are not negatively affected and the investor can demonstrate to BaFin that the target company is in a serious crisis and that the planned restructuring measures are suitable to restructure the company. In addition, the investor seeking the exemption must make a substantial restructuring contribution to the company, which in the case of a debt-equity swap will be the waiver of the claims under the acquired loans plus, in most cases, the provision of new money. The investor can apply for the exemption either before he assumes a controlling interest in the company or within seven days thereafter.


German companies in financial difficulty continue to provide interesting investment opportunities for international investors. The acquisition of controlling stakes by means of debt-equity swaps is no longer a novelty in the German market. Although it is potentially more complicated than a straightforward M&A transaction, a debt-equity swap can still offer extremely attractive returns.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions