The 10 Biggest Chapter 11 Bankruptcies In US History

CNBC has put together a quick slideshow list of the top 10 largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in US history based on the pre-bankruptcy assets of the companies in question. It really gives you a sense of the incredible scale of the Lehman Brothers filing — the next closest bankruptcy was Worldcom, which had $103.9 billion in assets before the filing — 535.1 BILLION DOLLARS less than Lehman Brothers. Damn.

10. United Airlines
Assets: $25.2 billion
Date Filed: Dec. 9, 2002

9. Pacific Gas and Electric
Assets: $29.8 billion
Date Filed: April 6, 2001

8. Global Crossing
Assets: $30.2 billion
Date Filed: Jan. 28, 2002

7. Refco
Assets: $33.3 billion
Date Filed: Oct. 17, 2005

6. Financial Corp. of America
Assets: $33.9 billion
Date Filed: Sept. 9, 1988

5. Texaco
Assets: $35.9 billion
Date Filed: April 12, 1987

4. Conseco
Assets: $61.4 billion
Date Filed: Dec. 18, 2002

3. Enron
Assets: $63.4 billion
Date Filed: Dec. 2, 2001

2. Worldcom
Assets: $103.9 billion
Date Filed: July 21, 2002

1. Lehman Brothers
Pre-Bankruptcy Assets: $639 billion
Date Filed: Sept. 15, 2008

Biggest Chapter 11 Cases [CNBC]
(Photo: epak )


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  1. Ein2015 says:

    Holy crap that’s scary.

    I know there’s been a number of books written about the failure of Enron. I wonder if anybody will be writing some about the failure of the Lehman Brothers? Keep an eye out for us will ya, Consumerist?

    Thanks Meg for the article! :)

    • TVarmy says:

      @Ein2015: I think part of the appeal of Enron in terms of books and the documentary was that they were just so corrupt in so many ways, and many of those ways were simple enough to be described in layman’s terms. Some of the ones on this list may just be boring old bad management. Of course, I don’t really know much about the other collapses, so I could be wrong.

      • m4ximusprim3 says:

        @TVarmy: Nailed it. Enron is unique not because if its size, but because of the massive, massive idiocy and moral bankruptcy which led to its failure.

        While Lehman Bros definitely did not act intelligently to protect their assets in a changing market, if their was a “top 10 bankruptcies by size, cross referenced by ineptitude”, enron would occupy the top 5 spots. at least.

        • m4ximusprim3 says:

          @m4ximusprim3: Someone tell that guy it totally undermines his credibility when he uses the wrong form of “there”. Idiot.

        • Ein2015 says:

          @m4ximusprim3: @TVarmy: I was thinking that perhaps the SIZE of the collapse could make it book-worthy.

          • m4ximusprim3 says:

            @Ein2015: The interesting book will be written in 10 years, examining the aftereffects of the cratering of the large investment banks and the massive government backing of the financial industry – will it lead to even more risk exposure by the remaining financial giants which the government sees as “too big to fail”?

            • RStewie says:

              @m4ximusprim3: I agree completely. It’s too bad we all have to live through these times before we can really see what’s going on.

              I was telling my SO about current events (we live in the “internet-free house”–NOT by choice, but by circumstance) so he’s out of it. Once I was done with the quick run-down, he stated, “We need to get out of this country.”

              I suggested stockpiling weapons and ammo, raising our own cattle (we have room for it) and getting a generator, instead. Thankfully we have a well, so our fresh water issues are taken care of.

              It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine!

              • mackjaz says:

                @RStewie: I know (think) you’re joking, but what was once the province of loonies and survivalists is starting to creep up the dial toward logical preparation.

    • @Ein2015: From a business perspective the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy is kinda straightforward. Enron’s was much more “interesting” given that it involved a somewhat elaborate systematic accounting fraud.

      From what I understand they overexposed themselves to a single risk factor and when the house of cards began to fold, they couldn’t fund their operations any more. That’s the simplified version.

      So a book that describes what happened would be kinda boring. A book describing what the hell went on inside the heads of the decision makers who caused the mess could be much more interesting. Somehow I don’t think they’ll be talking any time soon.

    • dangermike says:

      @Ein2015: Confessions of a Subprime Lender by Richard Bitner.

    • blackmage439 says:

      @Ein2015: Yeah, but at least Lehman didn’t use shady sales tactics that skirted the boundaries of US law, as they raped and pillaged billions of dollars from unsuspecting averages Joe’s, and then went belly-up with pain and suffering in their wake with the government cleaning up the me…


  2. pgh9fan says:

    Oh, the lawyers are going to make a mint on this one.

    • agnamus says:

      @Mfalconieri: Or, 8/10 have happened after Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (passed by a Republican congress). Instead of just tossing meaningless correlation arguments out there (X didn’t happen until Bush 2 was president, and therefore he must have caused it!), you should read about what the real cause was.

      /You’re an idiot if you think that one party or person is responsible for this.
      //You’re also an idiot if you think that every presidential candidate before has been the same-old-same-old, but you believe that one of the two candidates now will break that mold and magically cause “change”.

  3. Does this list account for inflation? The data source appears to only date back to 1986, so “in US history” might be a stretch.

  4. Mfalconieri says:

    and 8 of the 10 are from dumbass 43s terms. What a great president he has been for us.

  5. shadax says:

    None from 1992-2000 huh…Unfortunately this time, neither candidate can stop what’s going to happen in the next few years.

    On another note… The aww shucks hero maverick whatever etc. is like nails on a chalkboard. Color me crazy, but I don’t think there’s any excuse for any future presidents to be anything short of brilliant. That makes me lean towards Obama, even though I don’t agree with a lot of his politics (I’m a fiscal conservative, but neither candidate really is). Though I can imagine why Joe 6-pack would like the “everyman” candidate, because they think they’re more in tune with their everyman plight. Sorry. Wrong.

    • coolkiwilivin says:

      href=”#c7815808″>Mfalconieri: Nope he just inherited the mess from Clinton. It’s easy to blame W without ever looking at the evidence. This is such classic American short term thinking. Our president inherited a stalling economy with a gutted military. His biggest problem was that he didn’t act like a fiscal conservative and tow the line on spending. He should have been cutting the crap and using federal dollars for what the constitution says a government but to blame this mess on him is ridiculous and shortsighted but if you didn’t act like a hysterical chicken you wouldn’t be a democrat.

      • sburnap42 says:

        @coolkiwilivin: You mean, he should have reduced spending, and the deficit like we did under Clinton rather than doing what he actually did, which was to expand government and increase spending.,,

        I’m constantly amazed at the way people still claim that Republicans want to reduce spending when the only president in the last thirty years to actually act like a fiscal conservative was Clinton.

        When Republicans talk about reining in spending, they are flat out lying. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

        @Michael Belisle: Given that it doesn’t account for inflation, it probably doesn’t matter.

        • @sburnap42: Given that it doesn’t account for inflation, it probably doesn’t matter.

          Apparently it doesn’t account for inflation, but that’s not that important if you’re only looking at the last 28 years. I don’t think it changes the rankings.

          I still wonder if an inflation-adjusted list would include any bankruptcies from, say, the great depression. I’m having trouble finding any hard data, but even some states went bankrupt back then. (According to at least one source. Last time I took American History was 10 years ago, so please feel free to correct me if this is incorrect.)

    • KristinaBeana says:

      Did you have a chance to see Mitt Romney on CNN (may have been MSNBC) this morning? They were asking him about the collapse of all the different banks and financial institutions and the business backgrounds of the candidates. I was late for work because I was laughing so hard when he said he would happily put either McCain or Palin in as CEO in any finacial institution in which he either had ownership or (large) investments. Seriously?

    • BoomerFive says:

      @shadax: What’s your point? It takes time for economic conditions to change, 6 of them happened within 2 years of 2000. What’s that say?

  6. kirschey says:

    Why is it that these have all taken place during the leadership of Ronald Regan and George W. Bush?

    Maybe Reaganomics doesn’t work?

    • Vandon says:

      @kirschey: Why is it that these have all taken place during the leadership of Ronald Regan and George W. Bush?

      Maybe it’s because the conservatives have to clean up the spectacular economic messes left by liberals like Carter

  7. ARP says:

    I think blaming it on one party or another is too tenuous. The reality is this: if you think that deregulation is the root cause of much these messes, then Republicans have a larger than half share of blame. If you think these messes were caused by too much government spending, then democrats share a larger than half share of the blame. Of course the last 8 years by definition but more pressure on the Republicans because they didn’t reign in spending and they deregulated.

  8. Martin65 says:

    The slides don’t mention this, but the Lehman filing is larger than all the others COMBINED.

  9. humphrmi says:

    You guys who think that corporate solvency is related to who sits in the White House are funny. Seriously, you slay me.

    What I find interesting is that when Enron filed, there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth about how huge it was, and why didn’t anyone step in and do something about it.

  10. nicless says:

    I was unaware Jose Canseco had $61.4 Billion… I Guess steroids shrink THAT too

  11. cmdrsass says:

    It’s really stunning how little even allegedly informed consumers know about the workings of our economy and the impact of legislation. I suppose it’s easier to take cheap political shots than to think about the real causes and effects.

    • ARP says:

      @cmdrsass: I agree that some of the causes of the slump are simply the market cycles. But some of the sources of the current crises are political as well. Meaning, that one poltical party’s policies is based on their economic philosophy. Through those policies regulations are created (or eliminated/ignored/not enforced). So, a regulation requiring banks to verify incomes could have fundamentally changed our present circumstances. Likely it would have inhibited some economic growth but mitigated the fallout we’re seeing now.

  12. howie_in_az says:

    … the next closest bankruptcy was Worldcom, which had $103.9 billion in assets before the filing – 535.1 BILLION DOLLARS less than Lehman Brothers. Damn.

    Unless /usr/bin/bc is lying, the total of all the other bankruptcies adds up to $417 billion, which is still less than Lehman (not inflation adjusted).

    $103.9 + $63.4 + $61.4 + $35.9 + $33.9 + $33.3 + $30.2 + $29.8 + $25.2 == $417.0

  13. Consumerist-Moderator-Roz says:

    Folks, just a friendly reminder that partisan political rants are not allowed.

    Politics always intersects with economics to a degree, but let’s avoid pot-shots across partisan lines and discuss substantially.


  14. johnnya2 says:

    Add up numbers 2-10 and they do not equal number 1. I would also point out that EVERY business venture that George W got involved in has been a failure until somebody bailed him out. The taxpayers in Texas bailed him out by building him a spiffy new stadium for his loser baseball team and increased its value. Rich people call this revitalization or tax abatements, or whatever when in fact call it what it is. CORPORATE WELFARE.

  15. mrearly2 says:

    All caused by greed, corruption and fraud.

  16. goodkitty says:

    Isn’t this also just caused by corporate consolidation? When all the little companies merge together to form Voltron, when the same greedy, short-sighted people make the same wrong choices, it just means further to fall. There’s a reason why in nature we have diversity, so that one illness does not destroy entire ecosystems. Speaking of which, BoA just merged with who?

  17. Consume Now! says:

    This is great information. I would also like to see the amount of debt owed to creditors. I read that Lehman owed approximately $650 billion to creditors and had $155 billion in unsecured bonds outstanding. With the sale of Lehman’s US offices and real estate for $1.75 billion, not including the fire sale of Neuberger and European unit, there will be little left for anyone.