Is the bloom finally off the rose for structured settlement secondary market leader JGWPT Holdings, Inc. (JGWPT) whose subsidiaries include J.G. Wentworth (JGW) and Peachtree Settlement Funding (Peachtree)?
Despite strong sales since 2010, punctuated by the November 25, 2014 announcement that it had issued $207,501,000 of Fixed Rate Asset Backed Notes collateralized primarily by payment rights rights arising under court ordered structured settlement payment purchase contracts, JGWPT's NYSE per share price closed at $8.65 on December 12, 2014, down drastically from its 2014 high of $19.88 on March 4.
When JGWPT's Holdings IPO occurred November 8, 2013, with an initial offering price of $14.00 per share, one analyst opined the stock was worth at least $20 per share based upon JGW's "dominant franchise", access to securitization markets, low costs relative to competitors and "incalculable returns on capital", among other factors.
After JGW consolidated its 2011 merger with Peachtree, various industry experts estimated the combined combined company's structured settlement secondary market share totaled somewhere between 50% and 75%, and its share of industry profits exceeded 80%.
Zacks' conclusion: "A key reason for this [downward stock price] move has been the negative trend in earnings estimate revisions. For the full year, we have seen four estimates moving down in the past 30 days, compared with no upward revision. This trend has caused the consensus estimate to trend lower, going from $1.71 a share a month ago to its current level of $1.45."
What has caused JGW's negative trend in earnings estimates?
As summarized in S2KM's 2013 annual report about the structured settlement secondary market, JGWPT faced a multitude of problems and controversies prior to 2014. New and/or expanded problems have occurred during the past 12 months - in particular:
- Brenston case law "progeny"; and
- Washington Square v. RSL.
Brenston Case Law "Progeny"
In the Brenston case, the Illinois Supreme Court in December 2013 denied Peachtree's petition for review of an Illinois Appellate Court decision which found multiple Peachtree-Brenston transfer orders, previously approved in accordance with the Illinois transfer statute, to be void ab initio because:
- Peachtree did not file all settlement documents with the transfer court.
- Peachtree concealed "by omission" the existence of anti-assignment provisions which the Appellate Court found "material".
- The conduct of Peachtree and it's attorney amounted to an "affirmative falsehood and a fraud upon the trial court".
The denial of Peachtree's petition for review has substantially reduced the secondary structured settlement market in Illinois according to industry sources. Some annuity providers reportedly have refused to waive anti-assignment provisions in Illinois cases while others evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. In addition, some annuity providers are citing Brenston to challenge transfers in other states.
The Brenston case was also quickly followed by Sanders v. JGWPT Holdings, a class action lawsuit, accusing JGWPT Holdings, Inc., several affiliate companies including JGW and Peachtree, and Illinois attorney Brian Mack, of violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practice Act (ICFA). The case has since been removed to the Federal Court in the Southern District of Illinois with that court expected to rule on various motions and petitions in February 2015.
Washington Square v. RSL
In this case, transfer company Washington Square (aka Imperial) sued transfer company RSL Funding in Texas for tortious interference with a transfer agreement that had not yet been approved in a final court order. The Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District, held:
- RSL was “justified” in interfering with Imperial’s proposed transfer agreement prior to court approval because obtaining a better price was in the seller's "best interest".
- Transfer agreements that have not received court approval are not enforceable on public policy grounds and therefore cannot justify legal actions for tortious interference with existing contracts.
As a result of this case, a strategic marketing shift appears to be occurring within the structured settlement secondary market as rival transfer companies increasingly search court records and seek to outbid other transfer companies who are awaiting court approvals. This marketing shift may provide lower discount rates for some structured settlement recipients when they sell their payment rights. The impact on the secondary market, however, will be "chaos", according to some participants, including extra "informational" demands on the judicial system responsible for administering the state protection acts.
For JGW and Peachtree, who have invested millions of dollars to build their TV and Internet brands, this strategic marketing shift promises new, much less-well financed competitors. Like pilot fish, these competitors can be expected to offer competitive bids based upon public court filings of not-yet-approved transfers proposed by JGW and Peachtree (as well as other established transfer companies) rather than based upon their own independent marketing. Assuming this occurs, the likely per case results for JGW and Peachtree will be lower success ratios and higher costs.
ADDENDUM (added December 15, 2014) - JGWPT's September 10, 2014 Form S-1/A filing with the SEC identifies multiple "Risk Factors" at least two of which could impact other structured settlement stakeholders:
"[T]he insolvency or downgrade of a material number of structured settlement issuers." S2KM will discuss these rating downgrades, which include Genworth, Hartford and Aviva, in a subsequent 2014 annual report about ELNY and Reliance.
- "[T]he impact of the March 2014 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau inquiry and any findings or regulations it issues as related to us, our industries, our products or in general." (emphasis added)
Change of Directions for JGWPT?
One apparent result of JGWPT's continuing problems and controversies has been a change of CEOs with Stewart Stockdale replacing David Miller in July 2014. Another result appears to be a more diversified strategy away from structured settlements.
In a November 13, 2014 press release, Stockdale stated: "We are in the early stages of transforming J.G. Wentworth and are excited about the groundwork we have laid to achieve the three key strategic pillars -- Grow the Core, Become an Information-Based Company, and Diversify." To date, this proposed transformation does not appear to have impressed investment analysts or positively impacted JGWPT's common stock.
Other 2014 Secondary Market Developments
- Educational Dialogue - For the first time, educational programs sponsored by the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) and the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) featured representatives of the National Association of Settlement Planners (NASP) as participants in secondary market panel discussions. For the ninth consecutive year, NASP featured primary market representatives speaking about primary market issues at their annual educational conference. For summaries of these conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.
- Case Law - In addition to the Washington Square and Brenston-related cases summarized above, noteworthy 2014 case law developments occurred in Texas and New York related to split payments and servicing arrangements. Two Texas cases required JGW to continue servicing arrangements under prior court approved orders and also to service subsequent assignments by the same payees to another transfer company. Multiple New York judges expressed their concerns about servicing arrangements while approving structured settlement transfers. At least 27 state structured settlement protection acts prohibit partial transfers. During 2013, MetLife began actively opposing transfers that involve split payments as well as court-approved servicing arrangements. Under such servicing arrangements, structured settlement annuity providers remit the entirety of specific periodic payments to transfer companies to administer even when the original recipient/transferor only assigns a portion of the payments.
- State Legislation - Although structured settlement protection act (SSPA) activities occurred in Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Louisiana, and Mississippi during 2014, only Minnesota enacted a legislative amendment. Minnesota amended its SSPA to require notice of the date and judicial district of any prior application for transfer filed by the transferee relating to a prior proposed transfer with the payee including whether the proposed transfer was approved or denied. If granted, such notice must provide the amount and due dates of transferred structured settlement payments, the aggregate amount, the discounted present value and the gross amount payable to the payee.
- PLR-143928-13 - Issued by the Internal Revenue Service in August, this two-part private letter ruling approves favorable tax treatment for a structured settlement annuity which includes the possibility of a commutation by the recipient pursuant to a Notice of Hardship Conversion. In a prior blog post, S2KM described this PLR as potentially "game changing" because it overcomes an industry concern (enunciated in a 2006 Robert Wood article) that commutations do not qualify for favorable tax treatment afforded third party factoring transactions under IRC 5891.
- Re-cycled payment rights - Representing a small fraction of secondary market sales, the resale to personal injury victims and their attorneys of payment rights previously acquired in a structured settlement factoring transaction (sometimes misleadingly referred to as "recycled structured settlements") continues to cause serious concern among most primary market participants. NSSTA considers engaging in or promoting the marketing or distribution of re-cycled payment rights to be risky, confusing and unregulated investment activity and inconsistent with its Mission.
- Discount rates - Discount rates for structured settlement transfers vary widely depending upon multiple factors including: single vs. multiple bids; fixed vs. life contingent payments; size of payments purchased; length of payment deferral; perceived financial strength of the annuity provider; and/or state law (eg. North Carolina rate cap). The NCOIL State Structured Settlement Protection Model Act, which NSSTA and NASP have agreed to support, contains a definition for "discounted present value" which is generally higher than, and unrelated to, the discount rate actually incorporated into most structured settlement transfers. Regardless of discount rates, judges continue to deny proposed transfers that do not otherwise satisfy the "best interest" test. Reasons include: funds from prior transfer(s) were not used for stated purposes; stated purposes do not justify approval.
- Secondary market sales
- Based on interviews with industry experts in 2012, S2KM estimated 2012 structured settlement activity to be:
- 12,000 secondary market transfers - with less than 120 contested by annuity owners and/or providers.
- $360 million of total secondary market purchases (money paid to transferors).
- $30,000 average individual transfer.
- Opinions differ as to secondary market sales growth during 2013 and 2014 ranging from no growth to 7% growth per year.
- Based on interviews with industry experts in 2012, S2KM estimated 2012 structured settlement activity to be:
S2KM will address 2014 developments related to personal injury settlement planning and the ELNY liquidation in subsequent blog posts,
For additional related S2KM reporting, see: