Bankruptcy filings among publicly traded companies surged 74 percent in 2008, according to data from BankruptcyData.com, a division of New Generation Research Inc.
There were 136 bankruptcy filings by publicly traded companies in 2008, compared with 78 in 2007, according to the data. The 2008 results were still short of the record 263 bankruptcy filings in 2001.
While the year-over-year growth in bankruptcies rose quickly, the value of the firms seeking protection grew much faster. The 136 companies seeking bankruptcy protection in 2008 had about $1.16 trillion in assets, compared with just $70.5 billion in assets for firms filing for bankruptcy protection in 2007.
The key difference is the number of large financial institutions that collapsed in 2008 amid the ongoing housing and credit market turmoil.
"Financial companies often have much greater asset totals on their balance sheets compared to companies in other industries," George Putnam of New Generation Research said in a statement.
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s bankruptcy filing was the largest in history and three of the 10 biggest filings were completed in 2008, each of which was a financial institution. Aside from Lehman, Washington Mutual Inc. and IndyMac Bancorp Inc.'s bankruptcy filings were among the 10 largest on record.
Overall, 12 publicly traded financial firms filed for bankruptcy. Those 12 firms had $1.09 trillion in assets, according to BankruptcyData.com.
Putnam said 2008's increase might just be the beginning of even more bankruptcy filings as companies face paying off huge debt amassed earlier in the decade at a time when credit and cash reserves are tight. Bankruptcy filings are likely to reach their peak in late 2009 or 2010, Putnam said.