Overall market thoughts – volatility – fossil fuels

This is another rambling post with no coherency. The quarterly reports from companies are flowing in and I am reading them – but there are few companies that are below my price range where I start to care about them in detail. As such, my research pipeline at this point is in the exploratory mode rather than doing detailed due diligence.

It is in the middle of summer and I am not expecting much in the way of volatility – it is truly a summer where major portfolio decision-makers have decided to take away from the trigger switches.

Accordingly I have been sitting and watching with respect to my own portfolio while I do my casual research. Probably my biggest error of omission was watching the solar market rise over the past six months – I’d written them off, along with almost everybody else, as languishing when the price of fossil fuel energy dropped. A lost opportunity there – there was one company in particular which I earmarked, financial metrics looked great, but didn’t even pull the trigger, primarily due to insider selling. If I executed correctly on it, I would have been looking at a double now. Oh well.

An equity chart that caught my attention was the high expectations of investors of Canaccord pulling a great quarter, which came nowhere to fruition:

This is very obviously the chart of expectations crushed after a quarterly report – a regression to the recent mean would suggest a $4.50-ish stock price. I also notice their domestic competitor, GMP, being crushed after their quarterly report.

I also notice most liquid fossil fuel companies are getting hit badly and are close to multi-year lows. In the USA, most of the companies receiving boosts are the ones that have had been relieved of their debt burdens through the Chapter 11 process (LNGG is a great example of this). I still don’t think equity holders of fossil fuel extraction companies are going to be too happy over the next 12 months.

I also took notice with Interactive Brokers, and Virtu’s commentaries with respect to Q2-2017 as being one of the lowest volatility environments possible – they are two types of businesses that generate revenues as a function of trading volumes. Volatility correlates negatively with an increase with the broad markets – I am looking for defensive-type companies that will do okay in an environment like present, but will really do well when volatility increases.

Interactive Brokers is a classic example of a great company (they are the best at what they do by a hundred miles over everybody else), but one who’s stock I am not interested in buying at current prices.

Mostly everything in the Canadian REIT sector seems to be over-valued. An interesting trend is that the downfall of retail is somewhat being projected by RioCAN’s chart – trading below book value, it might seem to be an interesting value, but are they able to keep up occupancy and lease rates to businesses that have to compete against Amazon? The residential darling of the market is Canadian Apartment Properties (CAR.UN) but they are most definitely not trading at a price that would suggest a future performance beyond a high single digit percentage point and this is under the assumption that their real estate portfolio asset value remains steady. Trading in the entire REIT sector seems to be entirely yield-focussed which is never a good basis to invest, but it is a good basis to evaluate other investors’ expectations on these entities.

Gold has also been up and down like a yo-yo and might be an interesting bet against dysfunctional monetary policy. Unfortunately my ability to analyze most gold mining firms is generally not that fine tuned.

The liquidity of my overall portfolio is very high (nearly a quarter of the portfolio is collecting dust at a short duration 1.5%), but right now I don’t see much investment opportunity that would suggest avenues for outperformance. I could shove the money into some sub-par debenture (e.g. TPH.DB.F which buys you a 7% coupon until March 31, 2018 maturity) but do I really want to lock my capital into something that is questionable? It is the literal metaphor of picking up pennies in front of a steamroller. My policy is that if I have to force my money to work, chances are the investment decision’s risk/reward is worse than if I just held it in cash and waited for some sort of crisis to hit. I generally define “crisis” as something that will take the VIX above 30%, but it has been awhile since we last saw it:

It is pretty ironic how the election of Donald Trump was foreseen by most pundits to be the end of the world and higher volatility times, but so far the opposite has turned out to fruition. Will it continue? Who knows.

I see a lot of people making the mistake of impatience, and also the mistake of assuming that the index ETFs that they are investing into (Canadian Couch Potato, etc.) will leave them safe through masked diversification – works great as long as there are net capital inflows, but what happens if there is a correlated bust among these products? Will retail continue their conviction when they see a 10% drop in prices, or will they grit their teeth and add to their positions?

I continue to wait. It might be a very boring rest of the year with very limited writing. If you think you’re in a similar predicament, I’d love to hear your comments below.

Genworth MI Q2-2017: As good as it gets

Genworth MI reported their Q2-2017 results today and it was a blowout positive quarter.

The key statistic is that the reported loss ratio was down to 3% from 15% in the previous quarter – this is an accounting artifact due to the reduced reserving for losses (reserves increased $6 million compared to $30 million in paid claims). While the paid out claims is in-line with previous quarters, the difference is due to accounting for future losses – claims already in progress or claims processed have turned favourable from previous projections. The official explanation:

In the second quarter of 2017, losses on claims decreased significantly due to favourable development as there were fewer new reported delinquencies in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces as compared to the incurred but not reported reserve as at March 31, 2017.

As a result, the company’s yearly guidance shifted from 25-35% loss ratio to 15-25%. Delinquent mortgages also slipped down from 2,082 to 1,809, a significant drop.

These two factors alone should be enough to boost the stock price 10% in tomorrow’s trading. Book value is about $41.34/share (which puts today’s closing price at 12% below book).

The only downside is that transactional insurance written is down 5% from the comparable quarter from last year. The portfolio insurance is down considerably but this was anticipated due to regulatory changes of the prior year. Accounting-wise, revenues recognized should continue to increase over the next few quarters as the amortization curve of the unearned premiums (previously written insurance) kicks into full swing.

Their portfolio is relatively unchanged by the increasing interest rate environment – their government and corporate debt portfolio is at a slightly decreased unrealized gain position ($100 million to $87 million), but their preferred share portfolio went from a $19 million unrealized loss to a $12 million realized gain position (which was a nice recovery from their initial investment).

One highlight which won’t get much press is that the company made a good chunk of change on unrealized gains on interest rate swaps from the last quarter. I’ve been tracking the CFO of Genworth MI, Philip Mayers, and the decisions Genworth MI has made on portfolio management has been very sharp.

The company’s reported minimum capital test ratio was 167% this quarter, and this is above their target rate of 160-165%, which means that the company may choose to engage in a share buyback or give out a special dividend if this condition persists – the upcoming quarter has a $0.44 dividend (unchanged) but the company is likely to increase this by 3-4 cents in the following quarter as they continue to build up excess capital.

All in all, this is probably the best quarter that Genworth MI has had in its history from an economic basis. Does it get better for them?

Canadian interest rate futures

There are three Bank of Canada announcements concerning interest rates for the rest of the year: September 6, October 25 and December 6.

Right now 3-month Banker’s Acceptance rates are 1.2%.

The BAX futures are signalling that there is a better than 50/50 chance that rates will increase 0.25% in the September 6 cycle, and that there is a slight chance of two 0.25% rate increases by the end of the year:

Month Bid price Ask price Settl. price Net change Open int. Vol.
Open interest: 942,178 Volume: 86,058
August 2017 0 0 98.765 0 0 0
September 2017 98.655 98.660 98.645 0.010 137,868 7,160
October 2017 0 0 98.615 0 0 0
December 2017 98.500 98.505 98.490 0.010 224,303 15,544
March 2018 98.395 98.400 98.375 0.020 163,606 19,552
June 2018 98.330 98.335 98.305 0.025 112,558 15,558
September 2018 98.270 98.280 98.250 0.030 120,395 10,055
December 2018 98.210 98.220 98.200 0.020 102,302 9,439
March 2019 98.160 98.170 98.140 0.020 45,030 5,208
June 2019 98.090 98.100 98.080 0.020 17,655 1,763
September 2019 98.010 98.030 98.010 0.010 10,774 827
December 2019 97.940 97.960 97.940 0.010 5,193 646
March 2020 97.860 97.870 97.870 0 2,199 198
June 2020 97.780 97.800 97.800 -0.010 295 108

Guessing the impact of these short-term interest rate changes I will leave as an exercise to the reader for now. The one salient fact, however, is that when short-term financing rates increase, the incentive to leveraging decreases and so marginal investments will be less viable. Parking cash in a rising-rate environment is best done with cash rather than using any debt instruments with duration (I wish I had stuck to this – my cash parked in VSB.TO has decidedly unperformed zero-yield cash!).

Teekay / Teekay Offshore / Brookfield financing

Brookfield Business Partners (TSX: BBU.UN) announced a $750 million investment (Brookfield’s release) (Teekay’s release) in Teekay Offshore (NYSE: TOO).

I’ve written extensively about Teekay Offshore and thought they would cut their distributions to zero and likely cutting their preferred unit distributions because of impending financing issues. This prediction turned out to be mostly incorrect – they are cutting their common unit distribution to 1 penny per quarter (down from 11 cents), and maintaining their preferred distributions.

In general, my expectations for the outcome for this pending recapitalization transaction have been worse than what materialized.

Not surprisingly, Offshore’s preferred units are trading considerably higher in the markets – up about 28%.

Teekay (parent) unsecured debt traded up to 98.5 cents on the dollar today – I am happy regarding this transaction – it is likely to mature at par (January 2020) or earlier via a call option. Offshore debt holders have even more reason to be happy – theirs are up from 82 cents to 97 cents, with a 7% yield to maturity. (On a side note, I notice somebody was asleep at the switch at 5:00am today – there was a $100k bond trade for 90.8 cents on TK unsecured, which was a steal for the buy-side – NEVER leave those GTC orders out in the open unless if you’re willing to scan the news before the market opens!).

Summary thoughts (apologies in advance for this not being in a more professional manner, I am not writing from my usual location):

The first chart is from their today’s presentation, while the second chart was from an early 2016 presentation. Compare the two:

1. With this equity injection, Offshore buys itself a couple years of time (which is what they desperately needed) – however, their debt leverage goes from “very high” to “above average” – slide 9 is considerably above what they were anticipating in their 2016 slide when they initially recognized the pending financial crisis. Pay attention to the Y-Axis of those charts!
2. Teekay dumps its $200 million loan to Brookfield for $140 million cash and 11 million warrants in Offshore;
3. It’s not entirely clear what the terms of these warrants are, or how Brookfield picks up 51% control of the GP (they get 49% of it right now);
4. Offshore’s financial metrics (cash flows through vessel operations) should start to improve, but I suspect there will be upcoming challenges as long as the oil price environment is not supportive (thinking counterparty risk, potential future contract renewals, pricing pressure, etc. – examining Diamond Offshore, TransOcean, etc., although not strictly in the same market as TOO, leads one to believe that the present environment is also not favorable to maintenance offshore oil production expenditures);
5. Teekay also liquidated their preferred unit holding in Offshore, and this is functionally a sell-off to Brookfield.
6. The creation of a “ShuttleCo” subsidiary of Offshore will create some more financial complexity in the operation – they probably want to spin this out for valuation and/or leverage purposes (as this division apparently is doing reasonably well).
7. Offshore’s operational challenges and risks are still not going away with this equity injection, but Teekay has more or less divested as much as they could from them.
8. Teekay also get relieved of guarantees from Offshore, which will improve its financial position dramatically in the event of insolvency (this is huge for Teekay unsecured debt holders). Teekay is functionally at this point a play on their LNG daughter entity, while having some minority economic participation in offshore.
9. Teekay’s cash flows through Offshore will obviously be curtailed significantly, they have their own vessel operations which are cash neutral, so they will be solely reliant on either equity distributions of Offshore (if they decide to fully liquidate) or LNG’s distributions.

If I was an investor in the preferred shares or debt of Offshore, I’d be taking gains right now and going elsewhere.

I remain long TK unsecured debt and do not have any intentions to sell – I took a full position back in them last year. I’m not keen on any of the equity.

Worst-performing portfolio components

The biggest hits my portfolio has taken this year has been with the appreciation of the Canadian dollar and the cash-parking vehicle of VSB.TO. Sadly (not including monthly distributions, which is about 5 cents a month) they’re down about 40 cents over the past couple months, due to the short-term rate curve rising considerably.

I take solace knowing that the increased Canadian dollar gives me larger purchasing power parity and the increase in interest rates in theory should make credit-sensitive assets cheaper to purchase.

KCG, it was good knowing you (Eulogy)

The merger closed yesterday and I received proceeds from the equity and debt today.

The equity I had purchases between $9-11/share. My first stake in the company was back in Q4-2012!

From my debt purchase at 90.5 at the end of June 2016 to 13 months later, resulted in a capital gain of 13.1% plus the 7.6% current yield, made for a 20.7% CAGR investment on a senior secured debt, first in line, on a cash flow positive entity. I’ll miss you.

The perils of indexing

Horizon Kinetics has been writing about the flaws of passive index investing, and their latest quarterly report hits the nail on the head.

It reminds me of when Nortel was at one point 40% of the TSX60 index.

A solid investment screen begins with discarding the top 3 quartiles of the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100 – or anything ascending. Due to the passive mechanism of re-balancing, stocks that gain capitalization have a momentum effect because of their higher weighting.

Genworth MI – Q1-2017 and Q2-2017 preview

(Update, July 20, 2017: FYI, Genworth MI reports the next quarter on August 1, 2017)

While Home Capital was going through their issues, I had neglected to report on Genworth MI’s Q1-2017 report.

It was a quarter for the company that was about as good as it gets – their reported loss ratio was significantly lower than expected (15%) and well below expectations. The number of delinquent loans creeped up slightly (2,070 to 2,082) but the loss ratio was the highlight for the quarter. Most of the increase in delinquencies occurred in Nova Scotia and Manitoba.

Portfolio insurance written was also higher than I would have expected ($38 million), but this was due to the completion of paperwork received at the end of Q4-2016. I would not expect this to continue in future quarters.

The geographical split of insurance has not changed that much – Ontario continues to be 48% of the business, while BC/AB is 31% and QC is 13%. Half of the transactional insurance business continues to be at the 5% down-payment level.

Book value continues to creep up, now to $40.42/share. Minimum capital test ratio is 162%, slightly above management’s 157% holding level, and as long as this number is between 160%-165%, management is not going to take any capital actions (i.e. special dividends or share buybacks), although I will note some insiders did purchase shares earlier in the quarter.

The market reaction to the quarterly report was initially very good, but I suspect short sellers decided it was a good time to continue putting pressure on the stock. It got all the way down to $30.50 before spiking up to $38 and now has moderated to $34.70/share, which is a 14% discount to book.

Looking ahead to Q2’s report, my expectations are a more moderate outlook – the loss ratio should creep up to 25% again, and management should be noting that Ontario’s actions to curb foreign property speculation have had an impact on the local residential market. In relation to mortgage insurance, however, if people continue paying their mortgages (they are employed), ultimately real estate pricing does not matter. I think a lot of market participants have failed to make that distinction.

The other question is the impact of increasing interest rates – this will certainly have an impact on the short-term investment portfolio of MIC – including small unrealized capital losses on short-term debt. This will more than likely be offset by gains in their preferred share portfolio, which totalled $456 million on March 31, 2017.

Price-wise, the company is currently too cheap to sell and too expensive to buy. I’ll continue collecting my dividends.

Bombardier Yield Curve and Preferred Shares

The yield curve of Bombardier continues to compress:

Despite all of the negative press concerning their trade war with Boeing for the C-Series jets, it appears that the credit market is thinking that the credit side of Bombardier is quite secure – offering less than 7% for 8-year money. The company can easily raise capital with its current yield curve.

The preferred shares have had some interesting action lately, and this is because of the repricing of the BBD.PR.D dividend – because of (from the company’s perspective) an ill-timed rapid increase of the 5-year Government of Canada yield curve, their BBD.PR.D series will be giving out 3.983% on a $25 par value of dividends. Around July 10th when the market was blissfully unaware of the dividend adjustment (as they apparently didn’t read press releases), this would have translated into a 10.8% eligible dividend yield.

It is because of this that the BBD.PR.C series has traded down – there is obvious arbitrage between the C-yields and the D-yields. They were originally trading a full 200 basis points away from each other but this has now converged to about 50 basis points which is more reasonable (BBD.PR.C is worth more if you plan on interest rates to decrease, while the D’s are better if you expect them to rise in 4.9 years).

In relation to Bombardier’s bond yield curve, the preferred shares looked extremely cheap (especially the BBD.PR.D series at 10.8% yield!). Now it is around 9.3%.

Disclosure: I own some BBD.PR.C and BBD.PR.D.

Bank of Canada raising rates to 0.75% – makes no sense

Most of Canada has heard that the Bank of Canada raised the short-term target interest rate from 0.5% to 0.75%, which was the first increase in about 5 years. The rate increase itself serves to increase a very small rate into another very small rate and is insignificant other than the fact that this sounds like it is a warning shot.

Indeed, when reading the Monetary Policy Report, I’ve come to the conclusion that there was really no justification for raising interest rates in accordance to the Bank’s mandate of maintaining inflation at a 1-3% band – their own research suggested that the economy was headed in that direction with the current monetary policy. The decision to raise interest rates appears to be completely arbitrary, or guided by other considerations that are not captured in the standard reports.

It is this scenario that makes me believe that barring any economically cataclysmic events, the Bank should probably raise again (to 1%), but for reasons that has nothing to do with maintaining a 2% CPI rate.

All in all, this policy decision by the Bank of Canada is mysterious.