Home Capital – Don’t know why it is trading up

The power of Berkshire is strong – why would shares of (TSX: HCG) go up when the acquisition price is so dilutive to existing shareholders (selling 19.9% of the company for CAD$9.55 and another substantial chunk of equity at CAD$10.30 to a 38% ownership interest) and the company cannot even obtain a better rate on a secured line of credit than 9%?

They managed to sell $1.2 billion dollars of commercial mortgages between 97 to 99.61 cents on the dollar, which leaves the question of how much their residential portfolio is worth. How can this investment by Berkshire and the line of credit be good for anybody but Berkshire, or more specifically anybody but common shareholders?

Now that short sellers have been crushed to death, I’m going to guess the next month or so will likely represent the “top” of their stock price. Borrow rates are 75% right now so I’m not touching it.

Book value with this stock purchase, FYI, goes down to under CAD$20/share. So even on a price-to-book metric, HCG is almost trading like a regular mortgage provider – except with the very relevant fact that their cost of capital is well above what they can receive in mortgage interest! How they plan on making money by issuing 5% mortgages and loaning money from the credit facility at 9% or 10% is beyond me. Maybe they’ll make it up on volume!

There is absolutely no reason why Genworth MI should be trading up 10% on this news either. They are in much, much, much better financial shape than HCG, and shouldn’t be trading at less of a discount to book value than HCG is!

Stress in Canadian oil and gas

I wrote earlier this year about the downward slopes of Canadian energy companies and six months later, nothing appears to have changed – the trajectory for most of these companies continues to go down.

Commodity pricing is also highly unfavourable – WTIC crude is at US$43/barrel as I write this and the CAD/USD exchange is around 75 cents on the dollar.

So at these price levels, there are going to be plenty of companies that will find it very difficult to make any money.

What hit my radar today is Cenovus (TSX: CVE) taking a hit after their investor day presentation – their CEO is calling it quits at the end of October and planning a $4-5 billion asset disposal. The stock is down to about CAD$9.20/share – noting they raised $3 billion in capital back in April at CAD$16/share when they purchased back their 50% of their partnership in the Foster Creek/Christina Lake projects. Those shareholders must be feeling pretty “steamed” right now, having experienced a 42% depreciation on their capital in a few months.

In their presentation, they stated that the company is break-even at US$41/barrel. You can be sure that if present pricing stays at the current levels, there are going to be a lot more medium-cost producers that are going to start feeling the pinch on their balance sheets – the “bunker down and wait for better pricing” strategy only works when your rivals are out of money and you’re sitting on a treasure chest. Right now, everybody has enough liquidity to last another year or so before things really start hitting the fan.

Equity holders, in addition to feeling already light-pocketed, should continue to worry as debts rise and creditors start taking more and more of any available cash flows out of these corporations.

And as readers know, when there is desperation in the financial markets, that’s usually a good time to invest money. But now still doesn’t feel like the right time.

Amazon – Whole Foods

This is a rambling post with thoughts and no coherency.

Amazon and Whole Foods are two companies are at a larger market capitalization than what I normally would research, but I do take interest in the business strategies involved.

Here in Canada, there have been two retail developments in the larger player space over the past decade – the collapse of Target’s entry (despite a few billion in capital invested in the venture), and the merger of Loblaws and Shopper’s Drug Mart. The consolidation of Shopper’s Drug Mart has been more successful for Loblaws than I originally thought it would be. The collapse of Sears Canada was inevitable and I generally do not consider this significant other than another multi-decade titan fading into dust. Walmart Canada and Costco appear to be untouched at present. Amazon’s presence in Canada is still considerably limited and this is likely due to a function of geography and scale (most of the stuff gets shipped out from the Greater Toronto region).

I do notice that Loblaws (via Superstore) is trying to get into the digital presence – they do have parking stalls that are reserved for online ordering pickup and I am fascinated to see how that process works out (I have not used their service).

So I am asking myself what Amazon is trying to do with the Whole Foods merger and I think it is a reasonable gamble on their part. First, the chain itself is profitable and although their margins have compressed like a typical grocery store chain (it is a miserable industry to compete in), they do have excellent mind-share and geographical presence in upper-scale urban areas.

Amazon is trying to expand its retail physical presence and one area where they do not compete in currently is food – the question is whether they are trying to invade this space (i.e. going after Costco directly) or whether they are using it as a shipping hub (which in this case, they paid a lot of money for what are effectively large-scale post office boxes). I also do not believe that remaining in the premium food space is going to continue to be economically viable since the proliferation of other chains (e.g. Market of Choice, Metropolitan Market, to use a couple West Coast analogies, but even a franchise such as Trader Joes should be quivering at Amazon right now) is continuing to cut away at Whole Foods’ dominance. Using this analysis, Whole Foods’ decision to sell out was probably a good one for their shareholders, but the strategic benefits to Amazon still remain at the “reasonable gamble” stage. It must be nice to be able to throw US$13 billion in pocket change (they have $21 billion in cash and equivalents on their balance sheet as of March 31, 2017) at something and see if it sticks.

In terms of how this will impact Canada, it will not be clear until we see what happens in the USA – in Vancouver, there are five Whole Foods stores (and a couple of them were purchased from a company that marketed the stores as “Capers” which started quite some time ago).

So the questions here:

1. Is Amazon trying to augment its food offerings online (which generally have been lacklustre and expensive?)
2. Is Amazon trying to use Whole Foods as a moderate geographical footprint in major urban centres? What is the benefit of having more geographical pick-up locations instead of at-home delivery?
3. Is Amazon just bored and looking to invade another market where they are not dabbling in as one huge experiment? They tried this before with the Amazon Fire phones – RIP (and this also was the final nail in the coffin for Blackberry’s BB10 operating system, which I am still lamenting over since it is soooooo much better than Android).

All things considered, I still don’t think Costco has anything to worry about, but definitely this market space is getting quite cozy.

No positions in any of these stocks. Amazon does look like, however, it will need to raise another 15 billion in debt financing, which they should have no trouble doing.

Dividend suspensions – Aimia, and soon-to-be Teekay Offshore

Aimia (TSX: AIM) suspended their common and preferred share dividends today. While this decision could have been entirely anticipated, the market still took the shares down another 20-25%. If you read between the lines from my previous post on them, this should not have been surprising. Nimble traders that were awake around 9:40am Eastern Time could have capitalized on an intraday bounce, but the current state of the union is likely to be short-lived since the company still has to figure out how to work its way out of a negative $3 billion tangible equity situation and pay the deluge of rewards liabilities. This will probably not end up well.

And in a “tomorrow’s news today” feature, it is more probable than not you will see Teekay management finally tuck in their tails and suspend dividends entirely on Teekay (NYSE: TK) and distributions from common and preferred units of Teekay Offshore (NYSE: TOO). When the announcement will be made is entirely up to management but it will likely be before the end of the month. What is funny is that I called it a couple weeks in advance (post is here), while it took a Morgan Stanley analyst a few days ago to actually cause a significant market reaction in the share price while everybody rushes for the exit. Teekay Offshore unsecured debt is now trading at 17% and with their preferred units still at 12%, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going to happen next – they desperately need a few hundred million in an equity infusion and they will be paying for it dearly.

As a bondholder in Teekay’s unsecured debt, I’m curious to see how management will bail themselves out this time. Since I do not believe they are interested in losing control, I still believe the parent company’s unsecured debt looks fairly good since there isn’t much ahead of it on the pecking order in the event of an unlikely liquidation event.

State of the Canadian Debenture Market

I find the Financial Post’s compilation of Canadian exchange-traded debentures to be a very handy list to refer to. It is not comprehensive (there are a few issuers here and there missing) but for the most part is a full snapshot of the market environment.

Looking at the list, I think it is a very good time for Canadian companies of questionable credit quality to be issuing debt. Most of the debt on this list is trading at yields that do not properly represent (my own evaluation of) their risk.

Accordingly my research time is increasingly on the equity side of things in the non-indexed space. A great example of my readings included the Kinder Morgan Canada prospectus, worthy of a future post!

With regards to the debentures, I’ve sorted the debt by yield to maturity and decided to arbitrarily cut things off at 8%:

IssuerSymbolCouponMaturityYTMPithy Notes
Discovery AirDA.DB.A8.38%30-Jun-18118.28%Way behind secured debt, no control
Lanesbourough REITLRT.DB.G5.00%30-Jun-2259.10%Insolvent
Gran Columbia Gold CorpGCM.DB.U1.00%11-Aug-1843.99%81% mandatory equity conversion
Primero MiningP.DB.V5.75%28-Feb-2021.85%Operational mess, solvency issues
Argex Mining Inc.RGX.DB8.00%30-Sep-1919.07%Illiquid, no revenues!
Toscana EnergyTEI.DB6.75%30-Jun-1817.27%Senior Debt to cash flow is high
Gran Columbia Gold CorpGCM.DB.V6.00%02-Jan-2015.14%I own this
Westernone EquityWEQ.DB6.25%30-Jun-2013.94%Likely equity conversion June 30, 2018
Entrec Corp.ENT.DB8.50%30-Jun-2113.02%Cash flow negative, senior debt high
Temple HotelsTPH.DB.D7.75%30-Jun-1711.78%One month to maturity
Difference CapitalDCF.DB8.00%31-Jul-189.56%Payback not certain
Temple HotelsTPH.DB.E7.25%30-Sep-179.47%4 months to maturity
Fortress PaperFTP.DB.A7.00%31-Dec-199.22%Never figured them out
Temple HotelsTPH.DB.F7.00%31-Mar-188.11%How much $ does Morguard have?

I really don’t see anything worth locking capital into in this table at present prices. I do own one of these convertible debentures, but it is at a price where I would not buy (or sell) – my purchase price is from much lower prices and it is the only debt on this list that gives a warm and fuzzy “secured by all assets and nobody can step in front of me” arrangement.

I also note that the table is missing Yellow Media and Grenville Royalty which are both trading at 9% and 16%, respectively, but they are both unattractive for various reasons.

High Frequency Trading Gone Nuts

Attached was a rather amusing ticker-tape of the bid/ask in a particular stock that I track:

So the algorithm is to raise the asking price a random and rising value from roughly 14-16 cents a share, increasing range, each and every second.

Just imagine if you were the programmer doing this and accidentally got the code mixed up so you were doing the OPPOSITE. Good programming has many layers of fail-safes to prevent this malicious code from ever breaking through, but once in awhile these result in flash crashes. Knight Capital on August 1, 2012 was another famous example (blowing up their own firm on a single trading day).

If you are the counter-party on these incidents you have to react very quickly to take advantage of errant trading. It is rare when this happens. Mistakes like this also affect illiquid products much more.

Mad Retail Muppet – on Aimia debt

Daniel Austin has transitioned to a new site, the Mad Retail Muppet. On his first post in his forays with Aimia’s corporate debt, I am happy to bring his site to your attention.

I’m sure the 10 or 20 human visitors here will find excellent reading on his site.

I’ll add some value by saying:

* Aimia’s 2018 debt matures on January 22, 2018 and will likely mature. Their 2019 debt matures on May 17, 2019 and has a 5.6% coupon. They’re not actively traded via IB, but via Questrade they are currently being asked for at 84 cents (or YTM of 15.3% – noting these are the regular bonds and not the strip bonds). Retail bond pricing typically incorporates a VERY healthy price spread over what should be the existing market price (i.e. an institutional investor would likely get at least a couple cents better pricing, thus a higher YTM).

* The YTM of this debt issue should give you an idea of what I think about the preferred shares, which are trading at a yield of roughly 11% at present (AIM.PR.A/B).

* Taking a $456 capital loss (pre-tax!) on this debt transaction is a very low tuition cost. It’s even less than the cost of a typical 3-credit course at my old university!

* Daniel’s deferred revenue/cost analysis is spot-on: if Aeroplan members go on a Home Capital Group-style bank run on their Aeroplan accounts, Aimia is hard-pressed to pay – such is the perils of investing in a company with a negative tangible equity of some $3.1 billion! This alone is a major reason why I would not touch anything in this corporation’s capital structure.

* It’s obvious Aimia has another choice they will execute on in the future – watering down their rewards pricing. Legally speaking, if they were to double the price of all rewards, what recourse does the consumer have?

Let’s check the terms and conditions

In particular, you acknowledge and accept as a condition of continued membership that:

1. Aeroplan Miles have no monetary value whatsoever and cannot under any circumstances form the basis of a monetary claim against Aeroplan.

5. Aeroplan assumes no liability to members whatsoever by reason of the termination of, or amendment to, the Aeroplan Program, in whole or in part, the addition or deletion of reward partners (including Air Canada), limitations on the availability of flights or seats, changes made by Aeroplan Partners to their terms and conditions, or any change made in accordance with sections 6 to 8 below.

Looks like the program (similar to Air Miles) is an unregulated confidence game – the only recourse Aimia has to watering down their product (or Air Miles) is the loss of consumer confidence. Not much of a remedy.

As a side note, I’m anxiously awaiting my $100 gas gift card in the mail.

Thoughts on Teekay Offshore have not changed

Teekay Offshore (NYSE: TOO) reported their Q1-2017 results last night and they were lacklustre. In particular, the introduction of a litigation dispute with their largest customer, Petrobras, in respect of the operation of an offshore rig is not helping matters for them.

Last quarter I wrote about how Teekay Offshore units are “not going anywhere“, and that was an understatement considering this stock graph in the interm:

The next pillar to fall is their common unit dividend. Teekay traditionally declares dividends at the beginning of the calendar quarter and pays them out mid-quarter. I would expect there would be a 50/50 chance that they will suspend common dividends at the end of June or early July, and this would probably have a negative impact on their unit price. There is also an outside chance that they would decide to suspend their preferred unit dividends at the same time until they have shored up their financial resources.

The reason for this would be that they have not stabilized their financial position. With approximately 149.7 million units outstanding, the cash outflow of $16.5 million/quarter is something they really need to be putting into their outstanding debt. Preferred units receive around $11 million/quarter in cash in distributions and in a couple years, another series of preferred shares will switch from payment-in-units to payment-in-cash distributions (another $10.5 million/year).

Saving $27 million a quarter in distributions has to be attractive for a management that needs to repay $589 million in 2017 (this information is from their 20-F filing for their 2016 annual report). Cash flows through vessel operations will bridge some of this, but they are still missing some capital to make it through. They are also uncomfortably close to a debt covenant that they maintain total liquidity of at least 5% of their total debt (which is about $150 million in liquidity).

If you remember this chart from an earlier presentation when they got investors to chip in another $200 million in equity (April 2016):

CFVO (Cash flows through vessel operations) in Q1-2017 was $141.3 million, while net debt is ($3.12 billion gross minus $0.29 billion cash = $2.83 billion) – doing the math, we have ($2,830 / 4*$141.3) = 5.00 Net Debt/CFVO ratio!

This is way off the original 4.5x target as projected by management and this is getting into very dangerous territory where management has to take other measures to get the balance sheet back into a reasonable condition.

The only silver lining I can think of is that net debt has dropped $13 million for the quarter, but this is such a minor fraction of the overall net debt that it is relatively inconsequential.

Thus, I will predict that short of another form of recapitalization (or extremely dilutive equity offering), management will likely cut distributions from Teekay Offshore.

On a side note, I have gotten used to the “personality” of their quarterly reports and presentations as they release them and they are quite skillful at illuminating the information that they want you to be seeing and not paying any attention to the worms and termites that are crawling under the rocks. These nuggets of information are usually buried in the subsequent (weeks later) 6-K filings they report to the SEC. Also they are quite good at not reconciling their current situation with past expectations as you can see in the above post of their CFVO/Debt chart.

Stormy seas

When politics is attributed as the reason why the broad market drops by 2% in a day, you know there is more to come (the reason is most certainly not politics).

Brace yourselves – I’ve been continuing to liquidate things and are well positioned for a market crash.

(Update, June 4, 2017: S&P 500 is up 4% since I wrote this, in a huge upward trajectory! Shows you what I know about short-term market timing!)

Avoided another time bomb – Aimia

Aimia (specifically their preferred shares) were suggested to me a year ago as a reasonable risk/reward and a relatively high yield.

I declined. Today is the reason that I saw would likely happen.

Air Canada will be ending their business with them in 2020.

Everything in their capital structure is trading massively down – common shares are down over 50%, and preferred shares are down about 30%.

Good market timers could have bought when the margin calls were starting to flood in at around 10:00am Eastern time. The preferred shares at one point in time were down even more than the common shares.

(Update, I have included the chart of AIM.PR.A for illustration below)

I have no idea what the business prospects of Aimia is (although this news about Air Canada is VERY negative) and thus I will still not touch them.

I will, however, be a little more diligent at liquidating the meager amount of Aeroplan points I still have remaining – companies like Aimia can decrease deferred revenue liabilities by simply increasing the cost of “rewards” that their customers have already pre-paid for (can you tell what I don’t like about their business?).