Investing in a Bankrupt Company: Is It Worth It?

By Samuel Becker · September 10, 2023 · 5 minute read

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Investing in a Bankrupt Company: Is It Worth It?

Investors put their cash in the market in order to make more money, not lose it. So it can be befuddling, then, that some people are interested in bankruptcy investing—or, buying stock in Chapter 11 (bankrupt) companies.

While bankruptcy investing is a type of investment that may appeal to some, it’s a high-risk strategy that may not be the best route for most investors. Read on to learn about bankruptcy investing, and why investors might be interested in buying stock in Chapter 11 companies.

Different Types of Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a complex, legal process that companies, municipalities, and individuals undergo when they’re unable to pay their debts. It’s important to know that just because a company declares bankruptcy doesn’t mean that it’s no longer an operating business.

There are six different types of bankruptcy, known as chapters, with Chapters 7 and 11 applying to businesses.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 bankruptcy means that a company is ceasing operations and liquidating its assets. If a company declares Chapter 7 bankruptcy, assets are sold off for cash, and used to pay off its debts in an order determined by bankruptcy laws. Often investment bankers head the valuation process and help companies sell various assets during the bankruptcy process.

Then, bondholders and investors get their share of any assets left. When all is said and done, the company will no longer exist, and any assets it had will have new owners.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or “reorganization,” is different from Chapter 7. Companies often file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a defensive move when their debt payments become untenable.

Under Chapter 11 protections, companies focus on restructuring and getting their debt under control, increasing revenues, and cutting costs. During the bankruptcy reorganization, companies can often renegotiate interest rates or eliminate some debt payments entirely.

These companies are basically calling a time-out so that they can revise their gameplan. Companies often keep operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Ultimately, the goal is to use Chapter 11 protections to buy some time, put together a plan to emerge from bankruptcy, and return to profitability.

What Happens To Stock When A Company Goes Bankrupt?

Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, investors’ shares are effectively dead, since the company is going out of business.

If a company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a few things could happen. Shares could continue trading as normal, with little or no effect (other than price fluctuations) for investors. The stock may get delisted from major stock exchanges, but can still be traded over-the-counter (OTC). But be aware: The company may also cancel shares, making some investors’ holdings worthless.

Why Invest in a Bankrupt Company?

A company declaring bankruptcy sends a pretty clear message to investors that it’s in trouble, which can cause share prices to fall. For some investors, falling prices present an opportunity to buy—an attractive one, especially if they believe that those companies will return to profitability in the future.

At its core, bankruptcy investing is all about perceived opportunity. Many large companies with recognizable names have declared bankruptcy in recent years (examples include GNC, Hertz, Gold’s Gym, JCPenney, and Pier 1 Imports), and buying big-name stocks at rock-bottom prices can be very appetizing to investors.

There’s a chance that these companies can and will emerge from bankruptcy with streamlined operations that can quickly start driving revenue, causing share prices to increase in value. But it’s also possible that a bankrupt company is too far gone, and won’t be able to return to profitability. Investing in bankrupt companies is speculative and risky, but the potential of big rewards is enticing to some investors.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

Research to Do Before Investing in Bankrupt Companies

When investing in any stock (not just bankruptcy companies), it’s important to do your research, or due diligence on the company. For many investors, that means doing more than just looking at the price fluctuations over the past few days—it involves digging into the nitty-gritty details. Often, those processes can include fundamental and technical analyses.

Fundamental analysis of stocks involves taking a look at, well, the fundamentals of a company. That could include evaluating a company’s profits and growth, or metrics like earnings per share or cash flow. Investors are generally looking for strong companies to invest in, and generally, analyzing a company’s performance will give a sense as to whether or not it’s worth investing in.

Stock technical analysis, on the other hand, is a little more…technical. It involves looking at a stock’s patterns and trends in order to try and predict what it will do next. Essentially, it’s a method of forecasting a stock’s future performance based on its historical performance.

Recommended: 5 Ways to Analyze A Stock

Of course, if a company is bankrupt, both fundamental and technical analyses will likely provide some less-than-inspiring data, such as an unsustainably high leverage ratio. These companies have gone bankrupt, after all—so, investing in a bankrupt company will also require a leap of faith and research into their industry and their plan to return to profitability.

The Takeaway

Investing in bankrupt companies is a risky endeavor. While it may hold the potential for rewards for those who do their research and are willing to take the risk, it may not be the best choice for most investors.

There are many other ways to invest for those who are looking for a less risky, more sustainable, long-term investment strategy.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Invest with as little as $5 with a SoFi Active Investing account.

Photo credit: iStock/Rocco-Herrmann

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