DREAM Unlimited and Birchcliff Preferred Shares – cash-like with higher yield

I’ve written in the past about DREAM Unlimited 7% preferred shares (TSX: DRM.PR.A) and the situation still applies today. They, along with Birchcliff 7% preferred shares (TSX: BIR.PR.C) are the only holder-retractable preferred shares trading on the entire Canadian stock market.

They are both trading slightly over par value.

In the case of Birchcliff, the preferred shares only become retractable on June 30, 2020. As such, the implied yield to retraction is around 6.14% (assuming CAD$25.50/share and not factoring in the accrued dividend). You would receive eligible dividends over the next three years and a capital loss upon retraction. The underlying corporation, while somewhat leveraged, is quite well positioned if you assume the North American natural gas market is not going to evaporate. There is also some upside catalyst to the business fundamentals (not to the preferred shares!) if North America finally gets a liquefied natural gas plant on the Pacific Coast, but this is not likely to happen since price spreads have narrowed significantly over the past couple years.

Liquidity on Birchcliff preferred shares is not the greatest – but if you float an ask at the ambient price level you will likely get hit a few hundred shares at a time.

In the case of DREAM, the premium is not extreme when factoring in the amount of accrued dividend (at the closing price of $7.29/share, implies a 6.88% yield with a risk of an immediate capital loss if the company decides to redeem at $7.16/share). It has been quite some time since they have traded at a discount to par, and this is likely due to scarcity of shares – shares outstanding have decreased from 4.87 million at the end of 2015 to 4.01 million at the end of 2016, and this trend is likely to continue. Holders are probably waiting for the inevitable call by the company to redeem the preferred shares. But until this happens, holders receive an eligible dividend of 7% on their preferred shares.

Likewise with Birchcliff, liquidity with DREAM preferred shares is not good. However, there is usually daily activity on the shares and the spreads are typically within pennies. In a financial panic, however, that liquidity might fade and in a quick trading situation you might get a price a percent or two below par value.

There is conversion risk – the company can choose to redeem the preferred shares in DREAM equity, to a minimum of $2/share or 95% of the market price (which is the standard 20 business day VWAP, 4 days before the conversion provision, as defined in section 4.09 on page 68 of this horrible document). With the common shares trading at $6.60 and the business fundamental not being terrible, the risk seems to be quite low that preferred shareholders will leave this situation with anything less than par value.

I have some idle cash parked in both instruments. I consider them a tax-advantaged cash-like instrument and do like the fact that they are margin-able at IB (Birchcliff at 50% and DREAM at 33%!). This is much better than putting the money in a Home Capital Group GIC (earn 2% fully-taxable interest income AND have the privilege of losing principal when they go insolvent)!

Does anybody out there know of any similar situations that relate to US-denominated preferred share securities that are “cash-like” in nature?

KCG cost of capital calculation

I will warn this is a very dry post.

The merger arbitrage spread with KCG has narrowed considerably.

When the $20 cash merger was announced the shares were trading at $19.75. There is little chance of the deal falling through or there being a superior offer.

Today KCG is trading at $19.88. The estimated close of the merger was reported to be “3rd quarter 2017”. The assumption is the mid-range, or August 15, 2017.

So there are 3.5 months until the deal closes.

12 cents appreciation is 0.6% over 3.5 months, which over the course of 3.5 months implies a 2.1% annualized rate, not compounding. This also excludes trading costs.

Because I had a small cash deficit in my USD account and a surplus in CAD, I’ve sold some shares at $19.88 to make up the shortfall. I placed it at the ask to minimize trading costs, which turned out to be 29 cents per 100 shares.

What’s interesting is my trade got hammered away, 100 shares at a time, approximately 2-4 seconds apart per trade. Interesting algorithms at play here.

I also believe Virtu (Nasdaq: VIRT) will have a more difficult time with the integration of KCG than they originally anticipate. The company cultures are significantly different and while the merger makes sense on paper, in practice it is going to be quite different. KCG was also dealing with a non-trivial data migration program on their own, from New Jersey to New York City and these sorts of technical details require highly skilled individuals to pull off without causing trading blow-ups. It might take them a year to get things stabilized after the merger is finished. KCG had huge growing pains of its own after it was reverse-takeovered by GetCo.

Home Capital / Equitable Group discussion

Home Capital (TSX: HCG) collapsed 60% on news that they are in the process (not obtained!) a secured credit facility for a 10% interest rate, and a 2.5% standby rate for the unused portion. They also announced that customer deposits have collapsed in recent days.

Needless to say, this is a huge amount of interest to be charged and the market’s reaction is fairly indicative of this being a very, very negative event for the company.

(Update, April 29, 2017 – This is a little late, but the company confirmed the secured credit facility on April 27, which including the $100 million commitment fee, means an effective rate of interest of 15% for a $2 billion borrow, or a 22.5% rate for a $1 billion borrow. The ex-chair on television said it was secured 2:1 by mortgage loans and is front-in line. Yikes!)

Equitable Group (TSX: EQB) also has collateral damage, down approximately 17%. Are they next?

No positions.

Home Capital Group, Equitable Group

Home Capital (TSX: HCG) and Equitable (TSX: EQB) have been hammered today as a result of fallout of the Ontario Securities Commission allegations that certain Home Capital Group executives have contravened the various regulations. They continue to perform damage control, today announcing their CFO (who was under the OSC investigation) will be stepping down and other various board changes.

Borrowing rates for Home Capital spiked to 26% today. Equitable, which normally has been an inexpensive borrow, had its cost to borrow rise to 2.75%.

Implied volatilities on options for HCG is also very expensive at present, around 110% for near-dated options and around 90% for a couple months out. EQB does not have options trading on their shares.

There has been an avalanche of media coverage (both in print and social media) about Home Capital and their woes. They have been pushed down to about 25% less than tangible book value.

This spill-over has not occurred to Genworth MI (TSX: MIC) at present.

The closing sale for Davis and Henderson

I’ve written a little bit about D+H Corporation (TSX: DH) in the past. On March 13, 2017 they received an all-cash buyout offer for CAD$25.50 from an international firm and there is no reason to believe this will fail.

In my opinion, DH shareholders are getting a good deal since there are plenty of storm clouds on the horizon for the company.

However, there is a lesson for me in this story even though the last time I owned shares was in 2010.

Back in October 2016 when they released their disaster of a quarterly earnings report, their stock subsequently traded as low as CAD$14.06, although realistically if you had started accumulating after their earnings disaster you would have received an average price of around CAD$15/share. I also predicted the company would slash its dividend in half (which it nearly did, from 32 cents to 12 cents a quarter) and thought the stock would get hit even further as I projected a spiral of selling by panicked investors.

This did not happen. Instead, when they announced their dividend slashing, the stock quickly went up to $16 and never looked back. The company announced a strategic review to sell out the firm on December 7, 2016 which sent the stock up to $21/share and you can see the rest of the story in the stock graph.

So in the span of six months between an earnings disaster and the buyout offer, the company’s stock price has appreciated by a factor of 70%.

In retrospect, the October quarterly report and subsequent dive in stock price (from $28.70 to $16.20) should have been an equity purchasing event, not an event to continue throwing eggs and rotten tomatoes at the corporate body.

It makes me wonder about my valuation methods and why I got this one incorrect.

I wasn’t in a very good position to invest back in October 2016 (I was mildly leveraged at the time), but even if I was in more of a cash situation I probably wouldn’t have dipped my toes until around CAD$12/share where I would have seen an acceptable risk/reward ratio.

I have performed equity and debt research on hundreds of companies. Some companies I keep current on even though I have not taken a position on them. Some companies I just look at once and don’t look at them again until years later when there is some reason for them to show up on my radar again. There are also some like D+H that I have invested in a long time ago and check in from time to time. Whenever companies like these appear again, there is always the knowledge that I have done my due diligence over a larger period of the company’s history compared to those that are freshly looking at the company. In the case of D+H, it will be sad to see this accumulated research knowledge go away, but that is life as an investor in publicly traded securities.

Canadian preferred shares education

James Hymas has published a considerable volume of information concerning fixed-reset preferred shares. It makes for very heavy reading (i.e. this is not something you can casually read at a Starbucks), but if you are in the right frame of mind, there is a ton of educational content that you would never see in your typical MBA program.

He also has an equivalent document for a class of preferred shares that stand a better chance of being redeemed early due to regulatory capital requirements rules which I will not repeat here.

While I’m on the topic of James Hymas, he is very concise with his analysis on the Canadian real estate market, mainly that it is caused by “low interest rates”, “an explosion of CMHC guarantees”, and “unsatisfactory stock market returns”. Capital has to go somewhere and if you can’t get a 4% return from the stock market, you can at least go for a cap rate for the same in the real estate market. I will observe that 5-year bond yields have slipped to the 1.00% level again and 5-year fixed rate mortgage are available for 2.39% on insured mortgages. Why bother to put up any equity when money is virtually being given to you at the rate of inflation?

KCG Holdings: Bought out

KCG Holdings (NYSE: KCG) looks like it will finally be bought out by Virtu (Nasdaq: VIRT) for US$20/share, cash. They also announced their first quarter results, and according to my scorecard they did better than expected – while their bottom-line net income was slightly negative, they were significantly better on trading revenues than I was expecting. I was expecting a very lacklustre quarter due to incredibly low market volatility in the quarter. Interactive Brokers (Nasdaq: IBKR) is a regular conference call I read and they can attest to the impact of low market volatility on trading.

My investment history with KCG is quite fascinating. I did not disclose things here until October 2016, but I have been trading the stock at various times since 2013, which resulted in material performance gains, especially in 2013 (I took a fairly heavy call option position at the second half of the year). It has exhibited a narrow price range since its merger with GetCo after their August 2012 trading blow-up. The company has generally been off the radar of most investors as it received little analyst coverage and was treated like toxic trash.

Virtu has a plan to raise $1.65 billion in debt financing for the merger and also has sold $750 million in equity at $15.60/share, which should make the buyers happy considering they are now trading at $16.40/share – the market believes this will be quite valuable for Virtu. KCG’s existing 25% shareholder has consented to the agreement, which makes it very unlikely that the deal will not pass through KCG shareholder approval. Given the highly strategic nature of the acquisition, I also doubt there will be other competitors for KCG. Thus, this merger looks like a done deal.

Current trading is at US$19.75. The expected closing is in the third quarter of 2017. As the current spread between market and US$20.00 is around 127 basis points, this would imply a merger arbitrage spread of about 3.8% annualized, so I am in no rush to sell as I have nothing else to deploy my capital into.

The only other issue of concern is KCG’s senior secured debt, maturing on March 15, 2020. According to the fine print, the notes can presently be called off at 103.438 cents on the dollar and there is a required offer for 101 cents on the dollar due to the change of control (which would be redundant since the notes are trading over this in the marketplace). I would suspect Virtu would be eager to get these notes off the books as quickly as possible as they contain covenants that would otherwise restrict the KCG entity. I’ll hold onto these as long as possible but do not think they will survive much longer.

April options on KCG Holdings

The April options cycle expires on Friday, April 21. Not including today, this leaves 3 days of trading before expiry.

KCG Holdings (NYSE: KCG) is hovering around US$17.50 and their April 18 call options have a substantial bid of 16 cents, which puts them at an implied volatility of about 48%. Their historical volatility has been much less than this (typical options have been trading at around 20-25%, depending).

This is somewhat unusual, and probably instigated by the previous unsolicited buyout proposal at US$18-20/share prompted by Virtu (Nasdaq: VIRT) last month. Will there be a more solid proposal that will be made public soon?

Canadian Housing Finance stocks, April 13

On April 13, three notable companies associated with Canadian housing pricing fell considerably: HCG, EQB and MIC.

There were a bunch of other companies that had issues, but it looks like that the trio above were fairly pronounced in the day’s list of losers:

April 13, 2017 TSX Percentage Losers

CompanySymbolVolumeClose% Change
Nthn Dynasty Minerals LtdNDM4,841,0272.17-10.3
Intl Road Dynamics IncIRD203,2032.81-10.2
China Gold Intl Res CorpCGG1,269,5942.43-9.3
Home Capital Group IncHCG972,60621.70-8.6
Aphria IncAPH6,005,7937.21-8.3
Equitable Group IncEQB287,51263.41-8.3
Fennec Phrmctcls IncFRX12,5375.50-8.0
Silvercorp Metals IncSVM1,516,9934.94-8.0
Alacer Gold CorpASR1,881,2092.52-7.7
Street Capital Group IncSCB28,4891.40-6.7
Taseko Mines LtdTKO794,6751.52-6.2
Trilogy Energy CorpTET182,4814.95-6.1
Genworth MI Canada IncMIC221,17434.63-6.0
Top 10 Split TrustTXT.UN9,8634.08-6.0
Guyana Goldfields IncGUY916,0127.41-5.4
Golden Star Resources LtdGSC548,2681.09-5.2
Continental Gold IncCNL852,8253.91-5.1
Arizona Mining IncAZ501,4501.96-4.9
Great Panther Silver LtdGPR387,1652.00-4.8
Argonaut Gold IncAR1,036,6442.43-4.7

I’ve been trying to find what caused this spontaneous meltdown in equity prices.

My 2nd best explanation is that Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz is putting a torpedo to the Toronto housing market by making explicit statements about the 30% year-to-year rise in valuations and about how there is no explanation for it. Specifically, he stated “There’s no fundamental story that we could tell to justify that kind of inflation rate in housing prices, and so it’s that gap between what fundamentals could manage to explain and what’s actually happening which suggests that there is a growing role for speculation“, which is a mild way of saying that people are basically trading houses in Toronto like they did with Tulip Bulbs in the Netherlands in 1636.

He also politely stated that if you believe that housing prices are going up 20% year-to-year, it doesn’t matter whether he raises interest rates by a quarter or half point, and he could even raise them 5% and it wouldn’t make a difference (although it would be rather fun to see him try and see all the mathematical financial models predicated on stability go out the window in one massive flash crash).

However, my primary reason why I think the three stocks crashed is a simple announcement:


Media Advisory
From Department of Finance Canada

April 13, 2017
Minister of Finance Bill Morneau will hold a meeting with Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa and Toronto Mayor John Tory to discuss the housing market in the Greater Toronto Area.

A media availability will follow the meeting at approximately 3:30 p.m.

Date and Time
2:30 p.m. (local time)
Tuesday, April 18

Artscape Wychwood Barns
601 Christie Street
Toronto, Ontario


Being somewhat experienced with the nature of government communications, there is no way you can get a federal and provincial Liberal with a Conservative mayor doing a joint announcement on something without it leaking to the marketplace.

The only question here is how deep they’re going to stick their silver-tipped oak stake into the heart of the Toronto real estate vampire.

Toys R Us – Not for me

Most people are familiar with the Toys R Us franchise of stores – they sell toys and baby stuff. The Wikipedia entry has a good summary.

Their equity is privately held, but they are still required to report publicly because of debt covenants.

Their financial summary is more grim. They are being slaughtered by Amazon and other online retailers, so their heavy physical presence is causing an erosion of sales and pricing power to the point where they are no longer making money during most of the year.

For instance, from the end of January to the end of October (9 months) in both 2016 and 2015, the company does not make money when factoring in amortization (those physical stores and logistics still need upkeep). The interest bite takes an even bigger chunk out of the corporation.

So the Black Friday and Christmas season is critical. It makes the whole year worthwhile in terms of profitability. Even then, in the past couple years it has not been enough to offset losses of the previous 9 months (In 2016 even when factoring in CapEx and interest, they were slightly short of generating cash).

For the most recent holiday season, same-store sales in the all-critical Black Friday and Christmas period were down 2.5% in the USA and more so internationally. This clearly is not a good trend, and one has to ask whether it will continue or whether it was a one-off thing.

I’m ignoring the fact that their balance sheet is a leveraged mess.

Looking at their latest 10-Q, we have an entity in a negative equity situation (negative 1.6 billion), $420 million cash on the asset side and $5.5 billion in long-term debt.

This is a huge mess. The vast majority the debt is secured. There are convolutions of financings behind the various corporate entities under the holding firm, but suffice to say, it is about as leveraged as things get without getting recapitalized. I believe a recapitalization is inevitable.

Somehow, in August of 2016, they managed to convince the 2017 and some of the unsecured 2018 debtholders to exchange their debt for senior secured notes maturing later in time.

It is the 2018 unsecured notes (7.375% coupon) that I was looking at. They mature on October 15, 2018 and there is US$208 million outstanding (about half decided to exchange their debt for 90 cents of par value of secured debt).

The following is a chart of their trading since the exchange offer was floated:

The debt, at the asking price, has a yield to maturity of 11.3%, and a term to maturity of 1.52 years.

This looked like a Pengrowth-ish type situation where you have unsecured debt that may trump the secured debt on the basis of maturity, rather than security. There is a credit facility that has around $630 million remaining that could pay the October 2018 maturity.

Sadly, the risk of a spontaneous credit meltdown is preventing me from purchasing the unsecured debt. One can also make a legitimate case that Toys R Us will burn through enough cash to prevent them from paying off the October 2018 unsecured debt (they have to accumulate inventory for the that Black Friday / Christmas season and this will be when they need the capital the most).

Hence, I will pass purchasing this debt. I’m going to guess it will trade lower over the next 18 months.