The number of U.S. companies with public stock or debt that filed for bankruptcy protection last month dropped more than 70 percent from a year ago, as companies have benefited from strategies to stay out of court.

In February, just five public companies filed for Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, down from 19 in the same period in 2009, according to

Those figures were consistent with January, when just 12 companies with publicly held securities filed for bankruptcy, down from 18 a year earlier. Even at the end of last year in December just 11 companies filed, compared with 23 in 2008, said.

Many companies have avoided bankruptcy in the past few months by taking advantage of more robust high-yield debt markets to raise capital, securing agreements from lenders to delay or amend credit agreements, or through debt exchanges that allow companies to cut their debt levels.

However, some experts say these fixes may be only temporary and there are still more bankruptcies to come.

Last year was like a tsunami, but this next phase will be more like a rising tide; consistent and steady, William Snyder, a managing partner with turnaround firm CRG Partners, said in a statement.

Mega-bankruptcies of companies with more than $1 billion in assets have also become increasingly unlikely. While in 2009 companies that filed for bankruptcy with more than $1 billion in assets represented 24.8 percent of the total 210 filings, so far this year only 19 percent of the total 16 bankruptcy filings have had more than $1 billion in assets, said.

Last year was one of the biggest years on record for billion-dollar bankruptcies and came close to records in corporate bankruptcy filings overall. In 2001, by comparison, 263 public companies filed for bankruptcy -- the highest number ever -- and in 2002 there were 220 companies that sought bankruptcy protection, according to law firm Jones Day.

(Reporting by Emily Chasan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)