The global race to the bottom

While not as dramatic as the recent decision by the Swiss Bank to forgo keeping its currency at a lower than market value level, the Canadian dollar was the recent victim of a central bank action when the Bank of Canada decided to drop interest rates by 0.25%. The Canadian dollar is down 2 cents to about 80.7 cents USD (or about 1.24 CAD/USD).

BAX Futures were not anticipating this decrease – today, they are are all trading up about 0.3% as a result of the Bank of Canada’s actions.

My general thought is that the Fairfax theory of the global economy is showing itself to be true – deflationary forces are forcing export-driven economies to devalue their currency. The next leg to drop will be the European Union officially announcing their version of quantitative easing, of which has already had negative implications to their own currency. Japan has already been in this mode for a couple years (Abenomics).

The remaining leg will be when/if the US federal reserve decides to implement interest rate hikes. On today’s decision by the Bank of Canada, federal funds futures are relatively unchanged; they anticipate the US federal reserve will raise rates a quarter-point by the end of the year.

This will also create an interesting dilemma for the Chinese government – their economy is highly export oriented and their competitive position continues to be eroded by the macroeconomic decisions of other countries. Whether they choose to slowly deflate the Yuan in reaction to this remains to be seen.

While the cause of the Bank of Canada’s decision is related to the very sudden decline in the oil market, I am wondering whether the country is simply getting carried away in the geopolitical currents that seem to be affecting every developed country at the moment.

Right now I am over 50% exposed to US currency (the rest of it being Canadian), so I am not minding this trend. What I am regretful for, however, is that this will have a material impact on my willingness to go down to the USA for recreational purposes.

General comments – furiously conducting research

I have been intensely researching the oil and gas sector, and specifically looking for companies that have decent metrics and enough fortitude to not be operationally taken down due to financial impacts of low commodity prices. I also have been trying to find collateral damage, typical cases of the baby thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

There are many, many “hits” on my screens which makes the research very slow going. Specifically I want to know about hedging, and financial covenants and their financial structure in general in addition to the usual metrics. Dredging this stuff is very slow going.

There is a lot of high-yield out there which is trading at quite distressed levels, some of which seems very alluring. But high yield of course comes with risk.

A simple example: Do you want to lend your money to Russia for 10 years even though you are compensated with a 13% yield to maturity? I’d actually gamble that their large cap companies (NYSE: RSX is their ETF) would fare better than an investment in their sovereign debt at the moment.

Here’s a more specific example: Do you want to be a HERO? Specifically (Nasdaq: HERO) Hercules Offshore is a third-tier deepwater drilling firm, which is of a lower tier than Seadrill (Nasdaq: SDRL), Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO), Transocean (NYSE: RIG), etc. All of the drillers have gotten killed over the past couple months simply due to the fact that nobody wants to drill into expensive ocean when you can’t even make money on the shale inland.

In HERO’s case, their equity is trading as if the company is already dead, while the bond market is placing their 2019 debt issue at a yield to maturity of about 28%. So, what is more risky: Investing in Vladimir Putin, or Hercules Offshore?

Seadrill, however, is comparable to Russia – roughly 11.5% yield to maturity on 6 year debt vs. 13% for 10-year Russian debt.

Tax loss selling candidates

The following is a table of tax-loss selling candidates for TSX-issued companies that have a market cap of at least $100 million and revenues of at least $50 million. All of these companies have lost 30% of their stock price year-to-date and one would assume active fund managers would not want to have the embarrassment of having these in their portfolios by the Canadian tax loss selling deadline of December 24, 2014.

CompanySymbolLast52wkHigh52wkLowMktCapQtrRevQtrInc
Ainsworth Lumber Co.ANS-T2.74.222.24650129.712.8
Alamos GoldAGI-T8.5913.927.75107539.3-2.2
Argonaut GoldAR-T2.296.651.9135844.82.2
Athabasca OilATH-T38.842.78123332.3-56.8
Atlantic PowerATP-T2.544.442.14297156.7-64.6
Avigilon Corp.AVO-T17.9134.513.1583475.411.6
Black Diamond GroupBDI-T20.3135.9916.6388088.49.6
Canacol EnergyCNE-T3.588.773.4440971.9-2.3
Capstone MiningCS-T2.123.351.917862220.3
Cathedral Energy ServicesCET-T3.395.232.8512158.20.3
Chesswood GroupCHW-T11.8919.4411.2812028.12.8
Essential Energy Services Ltd.ESN-T1.923.191.8624552.8-5.4
First Majestic SilverFR-T5.5613.745.2365395.68.3
Horizon North LogisticsHNL-T3.2610.052.77371123.68.1
Imperial Metals Corp.III-T9.1518.637.9269058.715.2
Ithaca EnergyIAE-T1.412.951.2947690.90.7
Kinross GoldK-T3.335.992.273605915.644.1
Labrador Iron Ore RoyaltyLIF-T18.2134.8717.7511835235.9
Legacy Oil + GasLEG-T3.9510.033.9716169.318.8
Lightstream ResourcesLTS-T3.59.092.28750314.83.9
Long Run ExplorationLRE-T2.856.092.7432156.820.8
Pengrowth EnergyPGF-T4.487.784.172343476.952.2
Penn West PetroleumPWT-T5.05114.542527719143
Points InternationalPTS-T14.935.514.5923276.81.3
Redknee SolutionsRKN-T3.827.823.1543670.7-7.5
Savanna Energy ServicesSVY-T5.269.315.2474201.1-24.4
Serinus Energy Inc.SEN-T2.034.881.416041.98.7
Sirius XM Canada HoldingsXSR-T5.210.55.0168877.34.4
SMART TechnologiesSMA-T1.485.91.41176142.712.1
TAG Oil LtdTAO-T1.83.641.4712115.44.1
Talisman EnergyTLM-T6.5313.136.0169761742.3462.5
Teck ResourcesTCK.B-T19.229.116.8710969225184
Transat A.T.TRZ.B-T8.6614.77.65340943.525.8
TransGlobe EnergyTGL-T4.17104.18322155.526.2
Trilogy Energy Corp.TET-T13.5932.312.231724171.128.2
Trinidad DrillingTDG-T6.3212.896.07900170.6-24.8
Twin Butte EnergyTBE-T1.422.51.35499152.67.2
Westport InnovationsWPT-T6.1224.115.9739633.4-27.7
Yamana Gold Inc.YRI-T4.7211.863.934043516.5-1023.3

Some obvious conclusions:
– Gold and energy are not liked.
– Energy service companies are also not liked.
– Was a little surprised at Transat considering Air Canada and Westjet’s relative performance.

Oil and gas

As readers may suspect, I have been intensively looking at the oil and gas producer market directly as a response to the rapid decrease in world oil commodity prices over the past three months.

I don’t know whether oil is going up or down from here, but from the US$75 perch it is at today, I would suspect it is more likely than not we will see a US$100 (+33%) WTIC barrel price rather than US$50 (-33%).

I decided to restrict my choices to strictly oil and gas producers that are within the confines of Canada. I have a fairly solid grasp of the regulatory and legal side of what Canadian producers face and also a good feel for the political climate that may drive economic changes within the various firms (e.g. provincial governments deciding to tinker with royalty rates).

Go take a look at Transglobe (TGL.TO) if you believe you have any idea what the political-economic stability of Egypt is. If you think they will be all right, then you’ll stand to make a small fortune.

In the Canadian world, crude oil trades at a discount to the prevailing WTIC price for a variety of reasons. Heavy oil producers have an even higher penalty on pricing. The differential is unlikely to change soon and this has generally been the focus of the Canadian government to address the differential (via pipelines, and opening up an export route to east Asia via BC which is not likely to happen anytime soon). The discount that Canadian crude has over the prevailing North American price is a significant economic issue for those that derive their living from Canadian energy, but it is such a political issue that I will stop talking about it here. What is financially relevant, however, is the market is very well aware of this and is not pricing in any anticipation of the Canadian pricing disadvantage stopping anytime soon.

I will give an example. If a surprise deal is reached with the relevant First Nations bands in British Columbia and the Northern Gateway project is commenced, you would see a huge spike in Canadian oil and gas producers for sure.

After doing a ridiculous amount of exhaustive analysis, I realize that from my third party perspective it is going to be very difficult to pick alpha from companies that have very cookie-cutter characteristics and that indexing is the better way to go. Unfortunately most Canadian indicies and ETFs (e.g. XEG.TO) involve a huge concentration of Suncor, CNQ, Cenovus, Crescent Point, EnCana, Husky, etc., and while I think these are fine companies that will likely survive to the point when I start collecting Old Age Security, they do not offer the most potential for appreciation. So instead of going for an index ETF, I decided to just create my own mini-ETF with a few positions. I have taken a position in three companies with average sized positions. I had intended to do four but one of the names has since climbed higher than what I was willing to pay for it.

I’ve decided on creating a mini-index for myself consisting of PWT.TO, PGF.TO and DTX.TO. The first two should be well known to most people. They have been around since the former income trust glory days and are income-oriented investments. Despite the fact that they have massively huge yields (which had nothing to do with the investment decision at all), I generally believe PWT’s new management is on the right track (reduce debt, focus on costs, be up-front with shareholders when your previous CFO was over-aggressively capitalizing expenses, etc.). PWT is unhedged.

PGF has an heavy oil project that is being heavily discounted by the market simply because they are throwing so much more cash out presently than they are taking in, but they will receive a huge benefit from such expenditures from 2015 onwards in a Cenovus-like manner and then they will be able to get their debt metrics in order. They have hedged roughly 2/3rds of their 2015 production at ~US$84 and from there they will appropriately try to game the commodity market.

DTX, whether through luck or purposeful selection, appears to be a very heavily profitable producer. They don’t give out a dividend because they want to grow (which is exactly what they should be doing given their reinvestment returns). They’ve hedged about 1/6th of their production in 2015 at around US$88-ish (good market timing!).

There’s more to the above stories but I will leave it at that.

The price depreciation over the past half year in all of these issues has led to a margin of error factor that appears to present a good risk-reward ratio.

The last name that I wanted to include on the list was something heavy in gas rather than oil, and that was Birchcliff (BIR.TO). Unfortunately in their case, after I did my due diligence on them a couple weeks later than I should have and I was looking at a stock price that I thought I could time the market better than what actually happened (take a look at their last month of trading and you will see why). If they sink again to the single digits, I will likely be taking a position in them.

I wish a company like Peyto would crash down 50% but clearly this isn’t going to happen.

All of these companies have a possibility of being taken over by larger producers. They also all have insider purchases, which was a partial consideration in my sweep of companies.

I want to thank Neil J who offered some interesting comments on a previous post of mine. There is no way I would have reviewed DTX if it wasn’t for his comments. I very rarely pick off names that are brought to my attention in this fashion, but this was a rare, rare exception.

Given my relative uncertainty in underlying commodity prices (I am not a fan of commodities in general at this point in time, but I am making a very special exception for energy), I do not anticipate taking more than a total 20% position combined in oil and gas producers and related firms, but this is probably more weighing I’ve had in the sector for quite some time. I am comfortable holding this until we start seeing stories of peak oil and this sort of stuff again.

Reviewing underperforming Canadian oil and gas producers

One observation: It is abundantly clear that oil and gas producers in North America are going to be trimming their 2015 capital budgets. This will disproportionately affect the service companies, but most of this has already been baked into equity prices.

I have no idea where oil prices will be going in the short term. There is plenty of incentive for those that have already sunk a boatload of costs into their wells to keep them flowing. In the short term you might see some price shocks, but in the medium and long term, I cannot see oil losing too much demand relative to supply levels. While getting into my vehicle and experiencing heavy traffic is hardly a statistical sample that you can extrapolate across the world, intuitively I do not think electrification of transportation is going to be an imminent threat on crude oil (or natural gas) as being the transport fuel of choice. Nor do I see the requirements for plastics or any derivative products of crude being replaced anytime soon.

The point of the preceding paragraph is that crude oil is not going to disappear off the map anytime soon (unlike its predecessor, which was whale oil).

With my very generalized valuation theory on oil and gas producers that “oil prices are a reasonable proxy for company performance plus financial leverage effects”, I note that WTIC (West Texas Intermediate Crude) reached the US$80/barrel level back in June of 2012:

wtic

A very simple theory is that oil and gas producers that are trading below what they were trading in June of 2012 should be given a second look to see what caused their relative dis-valuation from present oil levels. A surprisingly large number of Canadian oil and gas companies are trading well above their June 2012 levels despite the oil price difference.

One reason is simply due to good (or lucky timing!) hedging strategies.

Another is due to the mix of oil (and the different types of oil), transport issues, and the percentage of natural gas and natural gas liquids in the revenue mix of a company – in general, while you aren’t suffering pure hell at US$2.50/GJ back in June 2012, your typical gas driller hasn’t been wildly profitable compared to the good ol’ days back in 2008 when you were at US$10.

There’s also the simple reason of having excessive financial leverage and not being able to finance the corporation at revenues obtained at current prices.

There’s plenty of reasons why an oil and gas company would be trading lower today than in even worse price environments seen in June 2012.

So given everything trading on the TSX, I’ve done some homework as a starting point and gone through the companies with the following criteria:
– Share price over CAD$2
– Market cap over $1 billion
– Not a foreign entity (although they can have foreign operations).
– Trading lower today than they generally were in June 2012.

We have, in descending order of market cap:

CVE.TO
TLM.TO (not that they’ve been having difficulties lately!)
BTE.TO
PWT.TO
PGF.TO
TET.TO
BNP.TO
LTS.TO (I was a prolific writer that commented on its ridiculously high valuation when it was known as Petrobakken).

I note that Canadian Oil Sands (COS.TO) is trading barely above what it was in June 2012. This is probably the most purest equity play on WTIC possible beyond putting money in USO (not advisable).

Any thoughts? Comments appreciated.

Canada issues 50 year debt

The government of Canada today issued $1.5 billion in debt with a 50-year maturity. The yield to maturity is 2.96%. For the duration these are amazingly low interest rates. If the Bank of Canada can actually keep the inflation target pinned at 2%, the real rate of interest is less than a percentage point.

Suffice to say, I think this is a prudent move by the government. I wonder when Canadian banks will come up with mortgage products that will let consumers lock in insured 30-year mortgages for 150 basis points above government rates. They do this in the USA, why not here?

I’m also curious to know how much debt the government can issue with these terms before the public market starts to vomit on this much debt. For every seller (the government), somebody out there must want to be long this debt. There is a financial argument about hedging against market volatility (typically bond prices will rise with a reduction in equity prices) and generating some higher semblance of income compared to 1%-yielding cash, but locking yourself in at 2.96% for 50 years? Unreal.

In a very abstract level, the taxpayers of Canada win in this scenario – as long as the pension fund that is buying the debt isn’t the one paying your future defined benefits.

The decline of the Canadian dollar

There have been drawn out periods where I have done literally nothing and 2014 has had that kind of start for me. Writing about how I am twiddling my thumbs is very unexciting, so I will talk about something which has caught my radar: The Canadian dollar.

cdw

Just like any patriotic Canadian, cross-border shopping (and just generally enjoying recreation in fantastic and not-too-contaminated by mass population areas like the Oregon Coast) is something that is easily accessible due to the relative strength of the Canadian dollar.

As you can see from the chart above, our purchasing power has just eroded by about 10% over the past year, which is mildly disturbing and makes inexpensive vacation prospects slightly more expensive. When something makes my recreational agenda more expensive, I take notice.

Not helping was today’s announcement by the Bank of Canada, declaring that inflation is “further below” their 2% target, which creates more pressure that interest rates are not going to be rising anytime soon, ergo the currency drops to the USA, which is starting to see signs of their short term rate increasing:

2014-01-22-2015-fedfunds

The thoughts swimming in my head is whether the drop in the Canadian currency is a predictive indicator of what is going to happen to the Canadian economy and equities as a whole (adjusting for the impact that they are now cheaper to purchase with US funds!)?

We will see. My market exposure is relatively low and I have not been inspired by anything I have seen out of the marketplace. It might be some time before I write again given this “do nothing” stance.

Financial highlights of 2013 – currencies

Other than the usual stuff about the S&P 500 being up a huge amount for the year, perhaps the unexpected financial highlight for most Canadians is in the following chart:

cdw

Looking at the other major currencies, the Euro has appreciated slightly against the USD over the year (from US$1.32 to US$1.38 per Euro), while the Yen has weakened considerably, with 87 Yen being one USD at the beginning of the year – now this is 105!

jpy

The Chinese Yuan strengthened against the USD of the year, 6.23 CNY per USD, while today it is 6.07. This continues a very slow trend of appreciation for the Chinese currency since they changed their monetary policy since 2010:

cny

Some questions for 2014 will be:
– Will the Canadian dollar continue to downtrend?
– How low will the Yen go before Japan collapses its economy?

Canadian Interest Rate Expectations

Today, the Bank of Canada announced it was keeping the target short-term interest rate steady at 1%. This was not a surprising announcement. The big concern on the minds of the bank is the escalation of household credit. It will blow up eventually (especially whenever interest rates rise again) but in the meantime, conditions continue to be very ripe for future borrowing.

I guess the financial tip of the day is to make sure to start deleveraging before everybody else does!

Month / Strike Bid price Ask price Settl. price Net change Open int. Vol.
Open interest: 651,369 Volume: 128,687
March 2013 98.715 98.720 98.720 0 87,081 3,000
April 2013 0 0 98.705 0 0 0
May 2013 0 0 98.720 0 0 0
June 2013 98.750 98.760 98.760 0 117,907 18,450
September 2013 98.800 98.810 98.800 0.010 140,414 30,685
December 2013 98.810 98.820 98.810 0.010 126,676 26,022
March 2014 98.790 98.800 98.790 0.030 85,272 21,108
June 2014 98.750 98.760 98.750 0.010 53,319 16,547
September 2014 98.690 98.700 98.690 0.030 17,236 8,173
December 2014 98.610 98.620 98.610 0.010 13,242 2,706
March 2015 98.520 98.540 98.530 0 5,555 1,051
June 2015 98.430 98.450 98.440 0.030 1,559 566
September 2015 98.340 98.350 98.350 0 1,723 149
December 2015 98.250 98.280 98.270 0 1,385 230

BAX Futures state that rates are not going to rise again for the remainder of 2013, and there is the expectation of a chance (but not certainty by any means) of a quarter-point hike around March 2015.

The decline of the Canadian dollar

I have been watching the chart of the Canadian dollar. Over the past three years it has exhibited a surprising amount of non-volatility, trending roughly between 96 to 103 cents on the US dollar in the last year:

cad

This is compared to a currency such as the Yen which has had some obvious devaluation going on over the past half year:

jpy

This leads to the obvious question of whether the Canadian dollar is still in a range or whether there is something going on that will trend into a further decrease in the dollar. Typically the dollar has been linked to the fortunes of the commodity market, and the general commodity market hasn’t really gone anywhere over the past year, so one would think this is part of a trading range as opposed to some breakout on the downside.

I continue to hold a majority of my holdings in US-denominated securities and despite the fact that the US federal reserve is doing its best to turn its currency into toilet paper, I would expect the US currency to be better toilet paper than other world currencies out there. I am guessing the phrase “in the world of the blind, the person with one eye sees all” is the most appropriate here.