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.

Home Capital Group – The cliche about smoke and fire applies

Home Capital Group (TSX: HCG) fired its CEO today.

The manner that it did suggests that there was a considerable disconnection between the information the Board of Directors was receiving and what management actually knew about the situation (or over-boasted about its damage-control abilities).

My guess is that the final straw was the dealings concerning the Ontario Securities Commission alluded to in the March 14th press release.

Home Capital Group is notorious in my mind for having a very high cost to borrow shares for shorting – it is the biggest proxy used by most people to bet against the fortunes of the Canadian real estate market – right now it would cost you about 22% to borrow to short. Those short sellers will probably be most happy to cover some of their holdings tomorrow (or depending on their risk horizon, add to their shorts!).

Pengrowth executes an asset sale

Pengrowth Energy (TSX: PGF) managed to execute an asset sale on its conventional production property north of Edmonton, the Swan Hills assets for CAD$180 million.

The debt profile at December 31, 2016 looked like this:

Right now the CAD/USD ratio is 0.75.

At the end of December 31, 2016 they also had CAD$287 million cash in the bank, plus another CAD$250 million for the 4% gross royalty sale on their Lindbergh asset.

They will be redeeming CAD$126.5 million in convertible debentures on March 31, 2017. They also have redeemed US$300 million of their 2017 debt maturity, and will redeem the rest after this transaction concludes at the end of May.

The company announced that after this sale, they have a pro-forma net debt of CAD$970 million.

My math suggests that after the 2017 redemption, they would have CAD$57 million cash left, assuming their operations consume zero cash (not a correct assumption!).

Payment of the debt will result in an interest expense decrease of $42 million per year.

They still need to have CAD$368 million on-hand on August 2018 in order to pay off their next debt maturity. It is possible they will run into covenant issues given that oil hasn’t moved around the US$50/barrel mark – their existing senior debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio would be the most material of it. They have about CAD$1.02 billion outstanding and their EBITDA needs to be above CAD$290 million in order to clear this hurdle.

Although the EBITDA value for covenant purposes was CAD$582 million, this is a skewed figure due to the employment of hedging. People not versed in accounting procedures for commodity hedging will have a tough time figuring out the mess, but I will just point out that management closed out their hedges in 2016 (which had been a VERY profitable transaction to them that otherwise would have guaranteed CCAA had they not had the foresight to doing so when times were much better).

KCG Holdings – Takeover bid from Virtu

The Q1-2017 report is going to be shockingly positive. Genworth MI (TSX: MIC) used to be my largest holding, but I have trimmed the position (mainly for diversification and deleveraging reasons). It still is a decent size of the portfolio, but not as prominent as it used to be.

My largest position after Genworth MI was KCG Holdings (NYSE: KCG).

Yesterday, near the close of trading, they confirmed that they received an unsolicited takeover proposal of US$18.50-20.00 per share from Virtu (Nasdaq: VIRT), another (very credible) high frequency trading firm. KCG did not file with the SEC.

Virtu filed 8-K with the SEC confirming they “made a preliminary, non-binding proposal to acquire KCG”.

Both entities have been quite silent otherwise. There is likely a lot of backroom jockeying going on.

KCG’s stock shot up from about $13.60 a share to $18/share today on over 6 million shares of volume. The company has about 66.4 million shares outstanding, and Jefferies (a wholly owned subsidiary of Leucadia (NYSE: LUK)) owns 15.41 million shares, and insiders own another 3 million shares, leaving a float of about 48 million shares that can be actively traded. 6.65 million shares traded today and suffice to say there is quite a large amount of speculation about what is going to happen.

My take on the matter is the following (in no particular order):

1. Tangible book value of KCG Holdings is $18.71/share as reported in their 10-K filing. A US$18.50 takeover price would allow Virtu to effectively take over KCG for free. This is the primary reason why I wouldn’t think this takeover would go anywhere as-is. My guess is that if Virtu was serious they would have to offer some equity as well, or some sort of premium to book value.

2. Virtu is a logical strategic acquirer to KCG – the synergies are quite obvious to both businesses. There might even be anti-trust issues with this acquisition.

3. Even though the acquisition at the low price range would be “free” for Virtu, it leaves the question of how they would immediately finance it.

4. The Jefferies control block is vital to the situation – if they can be persuaded to sell out, then management will likely have to follow. The question is whether they are motivated to sell out or not – obviously they will at the right price, but US$18.50 is too low.

5. The CEO was granted a huge amount of options at $22.50/share (priced well out-of-the-money at the time of the grant) and probably doesn’t have much of an incentive at this point to selling out the company for cheap.

6. Operationally, KCG is treading water in terms of cash flow, but this is because of unprecedented low market volatility conditions that is practically the worst environment for the firm (and also Virtu). In more normal conditions, one could easily estimate a value of US$25-30/share for the firm which is where I think management is targetting. They’ll probably sell out at 24ish if the bid got there.

7. Who leaked this unsolicited offer? Obviously KCG did – probably trying to drum up any counter-proposals out there as there are some other financial institutions that would be interested in acquiring the business. Perhaps management knows the end-game is nearing and this was a last ditch attempt to prevent a forced merger.

The decision forward is a high-stakes game for a lot of participants!

Disclosure: I own common shares of KCG, call options, and also their senior secured debt. Sometimes you really do hit the lottery in the marketplace.

Difference Capital – Year-End 2016 Report

I wrote about Difference Capital (TSX: DCF) in an earlier post. They reported their 4th quarter results a couple days ago and their financial calculus does not change too much. They have CAD$29.6 million in debentures outstanding, maturing on July 31, 2018. Management and directors own slightly under half the equity, and thus they want to find a dilution-free way to get rid of the debt.

At the end of 2016 they have about CAD$14.4 million in the bank, plus $60.8 million (fair value estimate of management) in investments. One would think that in 2017 and the first half of 2018 some of these investments could be liquidated to cover the debentures. The situation is similar to the previous quarter, except for the fact that they’ve retired about 10% of their debt in the quarter, which is a positive sign.

Due to their investment portfolio not making any money (they have been quite terrible in this respect), they have a considerable tax shield: $186.3 million in realized capital losses, plus $41.9 million in non-capital losses which start to expire in 2026 and beyond. If you assume that they can realize both of these at half of the regular tax rates (I just quickly assumed 13% for the capital losses and 26% for the net operating losses), that’s $17.6 million.

Considering the market cap of the corporation is $26 million, there’s a lot of pessimism baked in. Mind you, there are a lot of corporations out there with less than stellar assets, a ton of tax losses, and tight control over the corporation (TSX: AAB, PNP quickly come to mind) so it is not like these entities are rare commodities. The question minority shareholders have to ask is whether the control group wants to bleed the company through salaries, bonuses and options or whether they are actually genuinely interested in profitably building the corporation (in all three cases, to date, has not been done).

Pengrowth Energy – dodged a bullet

Pengrowth Energy’s debentures (TSX: PGF.DB.B) will be redeemed on March 31, 2017 and the company has also announced it will be redeeming USD$300 million in senior debt (announced February 21, 2017).

I own the convertible debentures and will miss their presence once they mature. I’m probably one of the few people that invested in the company and actually made money.

They also announced their year-end results on February 28, 2017. The operations of the company are fairly simple to understand – they are losing a relatively small amount of cash in the existing oil price environment, which they assume is at WTIC US$55/barrel and a 0.74 CAD/USD rate. Management has made some good decision-making on their oil hedges, but they have now closed them (for cold hard cash) and are completely at the whim of the oil commodity markets.

If you take their 2017 guidance to heart, you will end up with $195 million in “funds flow through operations”, a non-GAAP metric that is a proxy for operating cash flow excluding the impact of financing expenses and remediation. The GAAP statements are a mess to read because of derivative accounting (for oil price hedges), exchange rate adjustments, and require some mental massaging to be read properly.

All things considered, the corporation is not in terrible shape.

This is, however, except for the debt maturities coming up which need refinancing.

The company did have a $1 billion credit facility at the end of 2016. It was untapped, probably because the credit facility has a covenant similar to the senior debt. I believe the original intention of management was to use the credit facility to pay off the senior debt as it became due.

The corporation pre-announced in Q2-2016 that if oil prices continued their relatively low level, that they would be potentially in breach of their covenants. What was new in the Q4 announcement was that they alleviated their senior debt (before working capital) to book capitalization ratio covenant, at the expense of amending the debt agreement to redeem senior debt in the event of asset sales and also to reduce the ceiling of their credit facility to $750 million.

There are three other covenants remaining that an investor needs to pay attention to. The most material of them is the senior debt before working capital to adjusted EBITDA ratio, which ended at 3.1 in 2016, but needs to be below 3.5.

Pengrowth, to its credit, walked investors through their covenant calculations (page 10 of their MD&A). Doing some pro-forma (after debt repayment in the end of March) analysis, we have about $1,250 million in debt for covenant purposes, which means adjusted EBITDA needs to be above roughly $360 million for them to clear the mark. They did $581.6 million adjusted EBITDA in fiscal 2016, which gives them a relatively healthy margin of error – even though guidance is taking their production down about 10% for the year despite $120 million in projected capital expenditures.

So as long as oil prices don’t crash, they’ll probably use the credit facility to pay off the remaining US$100 million in debt due in July 26, 2017. The next major maturity is CAD$15 million + US$265 million on August 21, 2018, and if nothing changes between now and then, they will use the credit facility to pay that off. At that point, they will have about CAD$500 million utilized in their facility, plus the (presumably negative) amount of cash flow they burn through operations in the next couple years.

If oil does slip, there is a point where they will get into covenant trouble.

They did note in the MD&A:

After the above debt repayments, Pengrowth anticipates it will remain in compliance with its covenants through the end of 2018. In order to comply with certain financial covenants in its senior unsecured notes and term credit facilities through 2017 and 2018, Pengrowth has run a scenario, that accesses the capital markets before the end of 2017, and includes an improvement in realizations for oil and natural gas.

They will probably tap the asset market to give them a higher degree of comfort. This is what Penn West did when they gave up their Saskatchewan operations to stabilize their balance sheet.

In retrospect, I think the company erred in not using shares to repay the convertible debentures – they probably should have bit the bullet and increased their margin of safety by cheaply equitizing the convertible debt. Now, management is basically gambling that oil will be going up in the next couple of years and are basically playing a waiting game.

Who’s short on Genworth MI?

Genworth MI has 57.2% of its shares outstanding held by Genworth Financial (NYSE: GNW). This leaves approximately 39.3 million shares outstanding in the public float. Q4-2016 in the following annotated chart refers to the quarterly earnings report at the end of February 7, 2017:

On January 31, 2017 there was a reported short position of 2,844,353 shares and on February 15, 2017 that position increased to 3,188,297. This is a 343,944 share increase in short interest since their earnings report (which means that somebody is taking on a position to profit from their presumed downfall).

Borrow rates on MIC are relatively modest, at around 2.75%.

That said, when the price increases and short interest rises it will raise volatility – is the entity with deeper pockets the one that is accumulating shares and driving up the price, or are they the ones that are selling shares and applying downward pressure on the price? It is impossible to say without the benefit of retrospect, but if either party exhausts its funds or changes the pace that they are accumulating or distributing, it will result in higher price volatility. Imagine if those 3.2 million shares that are shorted decide that it is time to cover their position. Could there be a short squeeze? Share volume has been higher than normal lately which suggests that there is interest in both sides of this price battle to see who breaks first. Right now, clearly the winning side is the one accumulating shares and slowly raising the bid – I noticed the same price trend post-Presidential election, where the algorithm was simply “accumulate shares at whatever rate that it is sold to you and raise the bid by a nickel each trading hour until you hit some sell pressure”.

Technical analysis these days is simply about guessing the competing algorithms at work and who has the most money behind them – almost no institutions use non-algorithmic trading anymore as such manual trading leaks information like a sieve which increases frictional costs (you’ll get front-runned).

Teekay Offshore’s common units are not going anywhere

Reviewing Teekay Offshore’s financial results (NYSE: TOO), it strikes me as rather obvious that they have missed their initial early 2016 targets when they proposed a partial equitization (issuing common units, preferred units, and some refinancing) of their debt problems. They also borrowed $200 million from the Teekay parent entity (NYSE: TK).

In Q1-2016, they delivered a presentation with this chart:

In subsequent quarters, the company has generally not referred to progressing tracking to this projection, mainly because their debt to cash flow through vessel operations ratio has not met these targets. While the underlying entity is still making money, revenues are eroding through the expiration and renegotiation of various contracts, couple with some operational hiccups (Brazil) that is not helping matters any.

Putting a lot of the analysis away from this article, while in 2017 the future capital expenditure profile is going to be reduced (which would greatly assist with the distributable cash flows), the company doesn’t have a lot of leftover room for matters such as debt repayment and working on improving their leverage ratios in relation to cash generation ability. This leaves them with the option of continuing to dilute or depend on the parent entity for bridge financing. Indeed, one reason why I believe management thinks the company is still open for dilution is due to them employing a continuous equity offering program – they sold nearly 1.9 million units in the quarter at an average of US$5.17/unit. If they don’t think the company is worth US$5.17/unit, why should one pay more than that?

I don’t believe that they are a CCAA-equivalent risk in the current credit market (this is a key condition: “current” credit market), and I also believe that their preferred units will continue to pay distributions for the indefinite future, I don’t believe their common units will be outperforming absent a significant and sustained run-up in the oil commodity price. Note that there is a US$275 million issue of unsecured debt outstanding, maturing on July 30, 2019, which will present an interesting refinancing challenge. Right now those bonds are trading at around a 10% yield to maturity.

I have no positions in TOO (equity or debt), but do hold a position in the Teekay Parent’s debt (thesis here).