May 5, 2020 / 2:48 PM / a month ago

U.S. bankruptcies fall in April, but commercial Chapter 11 filings rise

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Overall U.S. bankruptcy filings fell in April compared to the year before, a possible sign the massive Federal Reserve and government response to the coronavirus pandemic may have helped stave off economic damage, or at least provided enough hope to families and firms to try to wait it out.

In a potential warning sign, however, filings of the Chapter 11 bankruptcies used by companies to restructure their debts jumped 26% to 560 last month, from 444 in April, 2019, according to data compiled by Epiq Systems and provided by the American Bankruptcy Institute.

The 2,270 Chapter 11 filings through April is the largest four-month total since 2013.

Overall, bankruptcy filings by households and companies fell sharply to 38,428 from 71,303 a year ago, a decline of 46%.

ABI’s executive director, Amy Quackenboss, said in a statement that the steps taken by the federal government beginning in March “have likely staved off bankruptcy filings to date.”

Those measures included loans to help small businesses stay afloat, one-off emergency payments to families, and unemployment benefits expanded to be both more generous and available for the first time to groups of people like self-employed entrepreneurs and contractors.

Banks have been encouraged by the Fed to give strapped customers leeway with loan payments, landlords urged to do the same by local governments, and many utility firms have suspended disconnections for overdue bills during the crisis - all steps that may help keep family and business finances intact for now.

Like recent economic data, however, the true picture may only emerge over time, as social distancing rules are eased, firms see whether customers return, and laid-off workers have a more accurate sense of whether they will be asked back to their old jobs.

The small business loans, for example, are designed to cover about two months of payroll, though it remains uncertain whether business will be back to normal by then for thousands of restaurants, hotels and others in the hardest-hit sectors.

Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Paul Simao

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