A default by a major U.S. municipality is more likely than a sovereign debt default this year and next year, according to a survey of restructuring professionals who also expect a rise in bankruptcies of middle market companies.

The findings of that survey were unveiled by AlixPartners on Monday. The survey polled the expectations of 91 bankruptcy lawyers, bankers, fund managers and other restructuring professionals. Topics covered in the survey included economic growth, financial reform, employment, bankruptcy trends and government fiscal health.

Some 90% of those polled last week predicted a major U.S. city will default this year or next, versus 63% who anticipate the default of a country in the same time period.

When asked where a sovereign debt default would most likely occur geographically, 74% said Europe while 12% pointed to South America and 8% expected a default from a Middle Eastern nation. 

When it comes to corporate restructurings, about 31% of the restructuring experts said they believe U.S. bankruptcy filings will jump by more than 15% in the coming 12 months. This expectation comes after the record number of bankruptcy filings in 2009.

The survey also found that a near-unanimous majority - 97% - of experts believe the recent trend of prepackaged, pre-arranged and accelerated bankruptcies will continue in 2010 and beyond. Nearly all of those polled believe that corporate bankruptcies in 2010 will be seen mostly in middle-market companies.

The survey defines middle market companies as those with assets of less than $1 billion.

When it comes to the U.S. economy, 72% of those polled said they expect the nation’s unemployment rate will be somewhere between 7% and 9% at the end of 2010.  However, the balance of the restructuring experts – or 28% of those canvassed – believe unemployment will rise to the 10% to 12% range.