Sleep Country Canada goes public – brief analysis of IPO

Sleep Country Canada (with the cutest ticker symbol on the TSX, ZZZ) goes public after they were taken private half a decade ago. The hedge fund that took them over is still up on a market capitalization basis, but they still have to liquidate approximately 47% of their holdings in the post-IPO organization. The hedge fund also lent the operating entity money which they received a slick 12% for (this is being converted into equity again and replaced with a more conventional credit facility post-IPO).

ZZZ raised a ton of money in the equity offering but it went to facilitate the internal takeover of the operating subsidiary and a partial buy-out of the hedge fund. There is also some equity remaining to pay off some debt of the operating entity so the business in general doesn’t look like a leveraged train wreck.

The underlying business within the holding company is of average financial profitability considering its retail business – very roughly speaking over 2012 to 2014 it has cleared a 9% profit margin before interest and taxes.

When doing the analysis, however, my question was not whether this company should be going public or whether it should be purchased, but rather: how the heck did they manage to get people to pay $17/share for this? On almost every valuation metric I can think of, I would not be interested in looking at this company until it reaches about $10/share (this is roughly 20% under a fair value estimate of $12.50/share). There are a lot of strikes against ZZZ at $17/share:

1. Its retail niche is not a growth market (despite what is claimed in the prospectus), especially considering its top-dog status in the Canadian market – thus not warranting any sort of real “growth valuation”.
2. The profitability of the market is not extreme (although one can make an argument that it will be more difficult to erode from the Amazons and big-box retailers compared to the retailing of trinkets) and one is very hard-pressed to find why existing margins will rise beyond economies of scale;
3. Investors should continue to pay a discount, not a premium, due to the fact that they are (nearly) minority investors in relation to the 46% owner (Birch Hill) sitting in the room looking for an exit;
4. Tangible book value after offering is going to be negative ~$142 million – this is purely a cash-flow entity one is investing in. If they were a growth company, why would they give out a planned 11 cents/share/quarter dividend?
5. I don’t ever invest in companies that have their ticker symbols not represent an abbreviation of their company name. Seriously.

At $17/share ($640 million market cap), I don’t have a clue why people would want to invest in this. Who should be congratulated are the insiders and the financial institutions that actually managed to find purchasers of this stock – well done!

Canadian interest rates

The Bank of Canada dropped their target interest rate from 0.75% to 0.5% today.

Canadian currency has taken a plunge in response. In addition the Federal Reserve Chair has pledged to start “normalizing” US interest rates by the end of this year which also puts downward pressure on all non-US currencies.

cdw

While I rarely have strong feelings on currencies, the “perfect storm” for the Canadian dollar is brewing (lowering interest rates, lowering GDP, lowering commodity prices, lowering external trade with China/USA, political uncertainty over the October 19 election) and it appears more likely than not that we’ll start approaching the point where we’ll see some sort of floor on Canadian currency (simply because the news could not get worse). I’m going to guess it will be around 72-74 cents, but we will see. I’d also expect this low to be reached around October and I may make a significant policy change on my CAD-USD holdings at this time given valuation levels.

My working theory is that the US economy is going to have extreme difficulties adjusting outside of a zero-rate environment and the process of deleveraging will be a painful business when hedge funds can no longer obtain money for free (Interactive Brokers, for example, will happily lend you USD at 0.63% for more than a million and 0.5% for more than $3 million). Paradoxically if the 30-year treasury bond decides to spike up from 3.2% to around 3.5% yield levels, I would suspect that purchasing long-term treasuries are going to be the winning play over the next period of time – not any equity fund. Debt levels incurred by the US government are hideously high and with every quarter point increase that they face will be a disproportionate amount of interest expense going out the door.

This also does not factor in other entitlement spending (e.g. social security, medicare, etc.) that serves to effectively ramp up the net expenditures for public debt purposes.

Right now I am mostly cash (or near-cash). Some of my efforts to find a place to park cash have mysteriously yielded results that are relatively low risk and I’ll be able to realize a modest single digit percentage at the cost of a little bit of liquidity, but in the event there are better investment opportunities on the horizon I will be in a very good position to pounce.

Canadian Housing Financing Market

There are three companies that come to mind that are directly related to Canadian residential housing financing: Genworth MI (TSX: MIC), Home Capital Group (TSX: HCG), and Equitable Group (TSX: EQB).

I’ve done extensive research on all of them in the past and I am research-current with all three companies. I do own shares of MIC from the summer of 2012.

The first, which should be no surprise to regular readers here, deals with mortgage insurance. The second and third deal with direct financing of home mortgages (both first-line and refinancing). If a mortgage is required to be insured (which is usually the case for higher ratio mortgages and refinancings) then CMHC and Genworth MI get involved and charge a premium in exchange for the lender being able to give out a lower rate of interest.

HCG today announced that its mortgage originations were down from the previous year and its stock price cratered roughly 15% as of the time of this writing.

Genworth MI is down about 4% in sympathy, although Equitable Group is in the “white noise” range for the markets (i.e. relatively unchanged).

A downturn in mortgage originations will materially affect HCG and EQB’s profitability, while this has more of a muted effect on Genworth MI as cash proceeds from mortgage insurance are not accounted for as revenues until they are recognized according to prior experience (net of expected default losses).

The takeaway to this message is that if Genworth MI gets disproportionately trashed in the upcoming days, it is likely unwarranted as the fundamental profitability in Genworth MI is not through volume, but rather the solvency of the lenders in question. Genworth MI also has the advantage of being able to run off its insurance book and still receive a boost in market value as it is trading below book value, while HCG and EQB are trading above book value.

Option implied volatility does suggest that institutional interest suspects further volatility. Tread carefully as always!

General market overview

The past two weeks in the markets have seen the S&P 500 go down a whopping 3% from its rough highs of 2120.

While I do see some signs of margin selling, it is still quite light and I am still not interested in dipping my toes further in the market.

I would love to see evidence of large-scale margin liquidations in illiquid securities. That makes me salivate financially, but we are another 100 points away from the S&P descending further before this may happen.

A few other points:

* 30-year US treasuries seem to have peaked at 3.2% and are now trading at 3%. The 3% gain you would have lost in the S&P 500 you would have gained by investing in long-term treasuries.

* The Canadian currency has also been hacked to death and BAX futures are hinting, but not fully pricing in, the notion of another interest rate cut to 0.5%. If the Canadian currency slips further I will likely convert some USD to CAD, likely around the 76 cent level. This seems to be directly correlated to the drop in oil prices.

* If the technical glitch on the NYSE was determined to be caused by hackers, I am curious how this would be priced into the markets.

Positions:

Happily majority cash.

Q2-2015 Performance Report

Portfolio Performance

My very unaudited portfolio performance in the second quarter of 2015, the three months ended June 30, 2015 is approximately +9.4%. The performance for the six months ended June 30, 2015 (year to date) is approximately +10%.

(An earlier version of this post had the 3-month performance at +9.6% and this minor calculation error has been subsequently corrected; this brought the year-to-date performance figure from 11% to 10% due to rounding).

Portfolio Percentages

At June 30, 2015:

22% common equities
2% preferred shares
1% equity options (net)
22% corporate debt
53% cash

USD exposure: 47%

Portfolio is valued in CAD;
Equities are valued at closing price;
Equity options valued at closing bid;
Corporate debt valued at last trade price;
Portfolio does not include accrued interest;
Cash balance adjusted for July 13, 2015 redemption of Pinetree Capital debentures (I did say this was “very unaudited”, did I not?).

Notification

I am still considering an e-mail subscription service for these updates. When I am in a position to do so, I may give an abbreviated summary of the report on the website, but send something more detailed through email.

Portfolio Commentary and Outlook

Mostly cash! This has to be the highlight of the portfolio. Cash earning zero yield. Instead of dumping the remainder in an index fund or long-term treasuries, I have opted to keep things as simple as possible and hold onto cash for better (or rather, worse!) times.

I am shocked that I am substantially outperforming the S&P 500 and TSX year-to-date. I have been running wildly dry for over a year now, so this quarter was a much appreciated break-out – albeit this breakout will strictly be temporary. I fully anticipate coasting over the year due to having a very high cash component to the portfolio.

The major action during this quarter was the liquidation of a substantial position in common shares as a result of a company’s dutch auction tender. I took the opportunity to liquidate most of the position during this time as the story in question (that I have been alluding to in the past couple years of these reports!) will have to wait for longer before it will turn into massive gains. This company will still be on my watchlist and I still hold a smaller position in it than I have in the past. Most of the shares were liquidated at a profit of about 40% from the cost basis that I acquired them at, but I was quite greedy on this position and thought it could go much, much higher (specifically I was looking for a low-risk double and with the help of some momentum, a triple).

Why not keep holding onto a large position if I still think they have potential? In an (hopefully not mistaken) attempt to time when the market will start to like them again, I do genuinely believe there are some technical matters within their ownership structure that need to be sorted out before they will appreciate. It is quite the piece of information for a tender offer to have all of your significant shareholders offer their shares. If they want to get out at a price that is relatively close to market, what makes one think it will go higher from this point until they’re all done liquidating?

I have probably given enough hints on this website for an astute person to figure out what stock this is.

I did pick up a minor equity position in a company that is now trading below a dollar per share. It used to be well above this and is primarily a perceived victim of the slump in the Canadian oil and gas sector. While I am not married to this position (nor am I married to any position in my portfolio!) the risk-reward scenario, especially when examining the financial statements and doing some basic calculations of what the industry should nominally look like in a normal financial state, seems to be quite favourable for a triple in share price over the next couple years. This is assuming some sort of moderation in the industry. Even if the common shares went 3x from present prices, it would still be well below its average trading price in history. Given the balance sheet leverage (which is not completely leveraged, but I would not call them conservative on debt either) this will likely be a binary situation where it will go to zero on a recapitalization, or stabilize and appreciate. If you get 2:1 odds flipping a fair coin, it is still wise to put some money on the outcome even though you may lose your wager. At present it is about 30% below my cost basis and thus it looks like a losing bet. I will not rebalance until I see Q2 financial statements.

My corporate debt positions have been pared down primarily through redemptions of Pinetree Capital debentures (TSX: PNP.DB). I’ve written enough about it in previous posts, but suffice to say, it is going to be very difficult to replace something with such an insanely high yield at a low-to-moderate risk level. Pinetree debt has been trading in the upper 90’s since the last redemption announcement, but it is far from an optimal vehicle to be parking cash (even though the coupon of 10% looks relatively attractive considering the debt is super-duper senior secured).

I have three other corporate debt holdings which are single-digit percentages. One is senior secured, the other two are senior unsecured and all of them are trading below par and are priced at a higher risk level than what I believe their financial statements warrant.

I’ve been desperately trying to find places to park cash to earn something beyond zero. Other than the obvious (GICs at 1%), I have not found any luck with the risk-reward parameters that I am looking for. There are a lot of creative institutions and securities out there that will tempt you into ways to locking your money, but removing liquidity must demand a higher price for the investment and I am refusing to sacrifice liquidity. In this instance, I am keeping very liquid.

My largest equity position is now Genworth MI (TSX: MIC) once again. Historically I took a large stake back in 2012 when it was trading below $20 and I see no reason why I should change my position at present. I did dump some shares in the high 30’s and low 40’s last year. From a fundamental perspective if it goes below $30/share I might start looking at repurchasing shares again if my perception of how the market is pricing in Canadian housing risk is more severe than my well-informed perception of what the reality is on the ground.

There is an omnipresent risk in the entire Canadian market that isn’t directly being talked about, and that is the upcoming October 19, 2015 federal election. Since the NDP (who have vowed to increase corporate income taxes, amongst other taxes) are in a position in the polls whereby they could conceivably be in government, the markets are going to continue be dicey for government-sensitive corporations out there. In particular this also does not bode well for domestic oil producers (which will likely be under further regulatory scrutiny). The election of an NDP government in Alberta has already resulted in their government promising in the throne speech higher taxes for corporations (the provincial corporate tax rate will go up from 10% to 12%), individuals earning $125,000 and above, and down the line, a probable implementation of a carbon tax.

As a result of the high cash balances, I do not seriously anticipate portfolio performance will be deviate much from -5% to +5% for the subsequent quarters unless if I can find a suitable place to deploy those cash balances.

I have quite a few targets on the watchlist, but they are at prices that are sub-optimal in terms of risk-reward. An example of this is Rogers Sugar (TSX: RSI) which at $4.70/share is not something I’d put in my portfolio, but if it goes below $4.00 I will look at it again.

As for now, at current prices, right now I am out of ideas. So I wait.

Genworth MI repurchases shares

Genworth MI (TSX: MIC) recently disclosed that they repurchased 1,454,196 shares in mid-May for roughly $34.38 per share, a repurchase representing $50 million.

The buyback algorithm they employed was less than subtle, mainly the repurchase of 137,210 shares per day for 10 days and 82,096 shares for the last day. As 57% of the shares outstanding are owned by Genworth (NYSE: GNW), they supplied 57% of the liquidity for these transactions. 620,818 shares were taken out of the public float.

This repurchase was executed at slightly less than book value, which means it will be mildly beneficial to book value per share – my estimates are that based off of end of Q1-2015, the transaction would add 3 cents of book value per diluted share.

Of course, the transaction will be hugely accretive to earnings – the buyback represents 1.56% of shares outstanding, which means this will add a couple pennies a share to the quarterly EPS figures. In addition, the buyback also means that the company will not have to give out an extra $2.3 million a year in dividends.

At the end of Q1, the company had $200 million in surplus of its own internal buffer, which is 220% of the minimum capital test required to operate. The company reported 233%.

As the company typically book about $90 million in income a quarter, the buyback likely represents a “cash neutral” policy of balancing dividends (est. $36 million in this upcoming quarter) and share buybacks, at least with its current market value. If their market value remains suppressed below book value and they keep executing buybacks on a quarterly basis, I foresee higher equity prices in the future.

Long-time readers here will remember that I disagreed strongly with management’s decision to repurchase shares at $40/share back in 2014. May 2015’s repurchase I completely agree with – a shame they could not execute it in March, but still, they (and shareholders) will receive good value for this $50 million repurchase.

I continue holding Genworth MI shares since mid-2012.

Liquidation spree – cash heavy

I have substantially liquidated a large position in my portfolio today and am sitting on an approximate 50% cash position yielding precisely 0.00%. The majority of this is denominated in US currency. I have no interest in swapping it for Canadian currency at this time.

For various reasons, while I have thought about investing cash temporarily in 30-year treasury bonds, at this time I prefer the comfort of plain cash. There are quite apparent liquidity issues concerning US treasuries (on an institutional level) that alerts my brain to a form of tail risk that I can’t quite express in words.

I have substantially completed nibbling on a small equity position in a company that I have not disclosed but since I am aiming for a 2% position and have obtained 1.3% to date, you can guess what kind of conviction I have for the underlying company. Looking for a double in a year for the reasons that the market is pricing in worse profitability than what will actually occur, and the industry the company is in can be described as fairly un-sexy at present.

Pinetree Capital (TSX: PNP.DB) will be redeeming more debentures at the end of this week and this will also result in a further injection of cash. There will likely be another redemption notice coming between now and the end of August which will clear out half of the remaining position, and the last half will occur between October and maturity (May 2016).

My largest equity holding is now Genworth MI (TSX: MIC) that I have held on since 2012. At its current price I am not interested in liquidating or purchasing more shares.

I am completely out of ideas and thus the next seven months may be a very boring period of time for portfolio management. I have a bunch of interesting companies that I have researched, but valuations are nowhere close to the point where I would pull the trigger. Examples include cash generators like Rogers Sugar (TSX: RSI) where I would ideally purchase under $4 a share. Companies like this I have on my watchlist, but are nowhere close to where I would want to purchase them with an acceptable margin of error.

I would not want to be a portfolio manager for a firm that required 100% deployment of capital. The decisions at this point would not be pleasant and I would take an extreme perspective of putting capital in the most defensive equities as possible. Most (if not all) of these have been bidded up due to the low interest rate environment.

For now, I wait and twiddle my thumbs.

Beef prices and demand destruction

Here’s an article on the CBC about the state of high beef prices (and how they are here to stay for years to come).

There are a few lessons here.

One is that these market-affecting events typically have causes that span a timeframe greater than a calendar year. For instance, this spike in pricing can likely be traced back to 2011 when there was a significant drought that affected most of the corn and grain-producing regions in the USA. The drought was a multi-year event.

When cattlemen cannot obtain enough feedstock for their livestock, they switch to liquidation mode. Beef prices paradoxically went to relative lows at the beginning of the drought but have skyrocketed (as far as food inflation prices go) ever since.

It will take some time for the supply-demand balance to restore itself. However, the other lesson here may be one of demand destruction – have steak prices gone high enough that people will permanently reduce their demand for the product, resulting in a reduction of overall volumes?

The analogy to the crude oil market is also fairly straight-forward in terms of things not coming to any equilibrium over the span of a calendar year.

Retail prices of beef (and other food products) over the past few years are available from Statistics Canada. Onions, carrots and white sugar are the only three things that have dropped in price from April 2011 to April 2015. (As a side note, celery is roughly equal in price, and onions, carrots and celery make the staple Mirepoix that is a classic mix for sauteing, so at least I won’t be giving that up in my diet).

A couple ways of playing the beef situation financially that come immediately to mind (although both do not make any sense under the circumstances). One are through food processors, e.g. Tyson Foods, (NYSE: TSN). There are few “pure beef” processors out there, but one that does come to mind, indirectly, is Leucadia’s (NYSE: LUK) very ill-timed purchase of National Beef Packing Company. I have no interest in either company (either short or long).

For those brave souls, however, cattle futures on the CME are the purest play on beef prices. They are not the purest play on beef volumes, however, which would be easier to play than the price of beef.

Anecdotally, I have noticed my own consumption of beef (especially my favourite cut of steak, rib-eye) decline as I generally look at the opportunity cost of the CAD$27/kg price vs. other meats that I am equally competent at cooking. Also there is the other option of buying tougher cuts of beef and a competent cook can prepare these in a manner that are palatable (e.g. thin-cut stir-fry), but it just isn’t the same!

A small note and investing in the lottery!

Almost everything I’ve put bids on (very near the market) have creeped away from the bid. It is also not like I put a ten million dollar limit order in the market either – I break things away into very small sized chunks and scale in as market volatility takes pricing lower (or vice-versa in the event of a sale).

My lead hunch at this point is to simply buy into long-dated US treasury bonds (e.g. NYSE: TLT) and just sit and wait and be patient for other opportunities as they may arise. If long-term 30-year yields go to about 3.2-3.3%, I just may pull the trigger. But if anything is like how things have been throughout the year, it is going to be a very boring year. Maybe I am slightly resentful that had I did the TLT route in early 2014, I’d be sitting on a rough 20% gain at present.

I will also point out that the Lotto MAX is at $50 million plus $33 million bonus draws which means that you have a better than 1-in-a-million probability with a $5 fee to win a million. Although the expected value of the lottery of course is negative, it almost seems like the only real chance of getting a big payout is through this medium compared to what I am seeing out in the markets at present.

Sad times indeed!

Maybe I should have invested in the CPP instead

The Canada Pension Plan reported a 2015 fiscal year-end (their fiscal year goes from April 1 to March 31) performance of 18.7% gross, or 18.3% net after fees.

Over the past 10 years, the CPP has realized a 6.2% real rate of return, while in order to remain sustainable they require a 4% real rate of return. When dealing with a $250 billion dollar fund, two percent compounded over 10 years makes quite a big difference.

I have had my doubts that the CPP would be able to realize increased returns as it grew simply because they are competing with a lot of other big players for the same pool of income. In a smaller scale, individual investors have to scour the beds of the financial oceans in order to find reasonable risk/reward opportunities.

There is likely going to be increased political pressure to either reduce CPP premiums or raise CPP benefits due to the outperformance of the CPP. It is likely such a decision would be a mistake because in the macroeconomic sense, central bank quantitative easing has inflated asset pricing to extremely high levels. It is very improbable the CPP can maintain its current performance and quite probable that they will pull in more “real-world” rates of returns (i.e. single digits).

However, all Canadians should be happy that the CPP is doing what it did – there is this pervasive myth that the CPP will not be able to pay out for existing and future generations and with the existing payment and benefit regime it is quite likely they will be able to pay for the indefinite future. Assuming you have made maximum contributions to the CPP, you would be entitled to a $12,780/year retirement benefit when you turn 65 years of age. While this is not a huge amount of income, when coupled with Old Age Security ($6,765/year) leaves approximately $19,500/year of pre-tax income which, if properly budgeted, will pay for a basic lifestyle in retirement.