Market musing while being inactive

I hate to sound like a broken record, but I’ve still been doing nothing other than research but nothing worth investing in at the moment except for one illiquid play mentioned in an earlier post.

Here is a series of miscellaneous observations:

* I note that Apple (AAPL) continues its slide down to the point where I am wondering if they are pricing that the company is not going to be able to keep its premium pricing strategy. On paper, they are still massively profitable, but if competition continues to chip away at their product line (mainly through Samsung on the phone front and a variety of other realistic competitors on the tablet front), they might run into revenue growth problems. The company in their last fiscal year (ended September 2012) made $156.5 billion in revenues and this year the analysts are projecting an average of $182.8, which is a $26.3 billion increase year-to-year. This is a huge amount of growth and the law of large numbers will likely be catching up to Apple in short order.

* CP Rail (CP.TO) is trading at absurdly high valuations at present. They performed a change in management and the market is giving the new CEO a lot of credit, but the railroad business is very mature and I don’t have a clue why they are giving the equity such a huge premium at the moment. I’d be a seller at this price range (the C$130 mark).

* Anybody remember the big scare about rare earths a couple years ago when China started restricting the supply and most of those stocks went crazy? The big play here, Molycorp (MCP) has continued to slide into the gutter now that the market reality of the perceived shortage has completely gone away. The substitution effect is very powerful and MCP shareholders are holding the bag.

* Likewise, most other fossil fuel commodity companies, including my favourite company that has been so overrated by many, Petrobakken (PBN), are continuing to suffer. It is similar to how most gold mining companies are not faring nearly as well as the underlying commodity – it costs an increasing amount of money to extract the resource, so even if the commodity price is increasing, if your costs are increasing, you are not going to make much money. Even Crescent Point Energy (CPG.TO) is starting to lose its lustre.

* The other commodity market that is continuing to get my curiousity up is currency trading – the US dollar has continued to outperform most of the other global currencies. The only way that I play this is that I try to hedge my portfolio by having some US-denominated securities rather than using leveraged speculation.

* The two Canadian Real Estate financing proxies, Home Capital (HCG.TO) and Equitable Group (ETC.TO) warrant a further look. HCG has faded somewhat off of its 52-week high, but Equitable is still there. If people are still hyper-bearish on the Canadian real estate market, these two companies should be the first on anybody’s short selling list. Non-performing loans are still around the 0.3% level and currently still do not show any real signs of distress in the market. I am still riding the wave on Genworth MI (MIC.TO) and believe there is still a reasonable percentage gain to be realized from current price levels. The loan companies, however, are hugely leveraged and I’m finding it difficult to see value there when book values are so significantly below market prices.

* Long term interest rates have also taken a nose dive – the Canadian 10-year bond was skirting at the 2% yield a month ago, but now they are back down to 1.8%. The world is awash with capital and there are few places to deploy it where you’ll generate yield at an acceptable risk level. Eventually the leverage party will end and the fallout is going to be very brutal. Whether this happens in 2013, 2014 or later, nobody knows. But there will be fallout, and figuring out how to brace yourself for the fallout will be a big financial challenge over the next decade.

Genworth MI Canada Q4-2012

Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC) reported their 4th quarter and annual results today. Because they never bothered to post the full financials on their investors website, sadly I had to dredge it out of the parent company SEC filing.

The chart has suggested there is an improvement of sentiment and there was also a scurry of investors in the past few days lightening up their risk in the company in the leadup to the quarterly announcement:


The results have to be translated to exclude the positive impact of the December 20th announcement concerning how they were accounting for the government guarantee fund (which caused a non-trivial reversal in expenses). After doing all the adjustments, the magic number is 90 cents per share earned in the quarter.

The CMHC hitting its insured portfolio ceiling is also visibly helping the business on the private side, despite changes to amortization and down payment rules.

Delinquency rates continue to remain exceptionally low at 0.14% for the quarter (0.2% in the previous year’s quarter).

I haven’t been able to see the consolidated balance sheet as of yet, but book value is $30.62/share, while intangibles and goodwill is approximately 20 cents a share.

With a market value of $23.68/share, they are still deeply betting that the Canadian housing market is going into the gutter. While this might be true price-wise, what is important is the ability for people to pay off their mortgages, and this means employment. Nothing has changed in Canada at present with respect to this and although I believe housing prices will exhibit long-term depreciation (especially when interest rates decide to rise again), this will not adversely affect the mortgage insurance business unless if such price drops are precipitous.

The effective loan-to-value of the insurance portfolio is a good metric of how buffered the company is in the event of a mortgage default. Most of the embedded risk are on new purchases and as payments continue amortization of mortgages continue to result in risk reduction for the company. At the end of the year, the loan-to-value (essentially an inverse measurement of equity) on such insurance is as follows:

2006 and prior – 40%
2007 – 68%
2008 – 73%
2009 – 75%
2010 – 82%
2011 – 88%
2012 – 92%

It should be pointed out that on a typical 5-year fixed rate mortgage at current rates, if there was a 5/10% downpayment made, that the homeowner at the end of the 5-year period will have 18.7/23.0% equity in the property. This is the buffer room that insurance companies have with respect to price deprecation and also are compensated with the 2.75% premium paid on such mortgages.

Needless to say my original thesis is still in effect – Genworth MI is an inexpensive cash machine, even at current prices. Not as good as when it was in the teens when I bought my shares, but still is a very good value. All things being equal, at existing market values, investors should be realizing about a 14% annual return and this does not include any accretion that comes out of a realization of the negative differential between book value and market value. Compared to putting money in bonds, this is a pretty good return given the risk taken (which is low, but certainly not zero – this is what you are being compensated 11% over bonds with!).

The company also gives out a 32 cent/quarter dividend, but this is utterly irrelevant to the investment thesis, which is that there is incredibly deep value in the company. I am quite frankly surprised that the company already hasn’t been hived off to Sunlife (TSX: SLF) or Manulife (TSX: MFC), both of which desperately need diversification from the tragic errors they made with variable life annuities a few years back.

There’s excellent potential for this company to get back to book value and it is just a matter of being patient and not watching the Canadian real estate market implode. As long as that market does not implode, the shareholders should profit immensely.

Genworth MI books a one-time gain

Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC) made an announcement today that reflected changes to the underlying legislation, the Protection of Residential Mortgage or Hypothecary Insurance Act and the impact on its balance sheet.

It had been accruing a government guarantee fund that was funded through gross premiums that effectively functioned as a corporate equivalent of an RRSP, with the difference being that there was an exit fee of 1% for every year the funds were deposited into the fund. Any deposits in the fund were tax deductible, but any withdrawals would be taxable.

In the new regime, this fund is now going to be collapsed, but without the exit fee. Thus, the company is basically going to book the exit fee (after taxes) as a gain, which will amount to about $135 million or about $1.37/share.

In exchange, the company is now going to contribute 2.25% of gross premiums to the federal government (as an expense and not into a guarantee fund) and their minimum capital test amount will be going up to an internal level of 185% (required is 175%) from the present 145% (required is 120%).

The implication here is that the company will be making more money in the future (all things being equal; this does not account for the decreases in real estate transaction volume that will be decreasing the premiums written in the future) and the company will have a relatively large amount of capital freed up to examine other options, including dividends or share buybacks. Management was previously burnt by spending $160 million on June 30, 2011 on a share buyback at $26/share. In light of the fact the company is trading well under book value, it would not surprise me to see them consider another one, or they could give out another dividend.

Investors would be cautioned that MIC will likely do what is in the best interests of Genworth (NYSE: GNW) as they own 57.5% of the company.

Shares of MIC are up 3.6% at present.

Genworth and subsidiary unit

Genworth (NYSE: GNW) shares have risen by about 25% over the past month:


This is presumably due to their reduction of exposure to US mortgage insurance liability. They also recently hired a new CEO. I tried analyzing them earlier when doing my purchase of Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC) without coming to any conclusions that made me feel warm and fuzzy, but MIC is also has been a somewhat more muted recipient of positive price action:

Despite all the doom and gloom concerning the Canadian real estate market, at this time I do not believe that this is going to affect mortgage insurance. Increases in unemployment and subsequent employment instability will likely be the precursor to mortgage-related claims. Indeed, delinquency rates at present are considerably lower.

MIC should be trading closer to tangible book value (roughly $28-29/share) which I believe is a more accurate reflection of its market value. At a certain point if Genworth manages to stabilize its financial picture, its options with respect to MIC start to increase. While the market continues to figure out this picture, investors can continue to clip dividends ($1.28/year annualized) from the shares while the company is likely to report earnings around the $3/share range. This recovery in MIC’s market value will likely continue to accelerate if the recovery in the US housing market continues.

Genworth MI Canada’s third quarter

Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC) posted their third quarter yesterday. Highlights include a declining delinquency rate (down to 0.15%), lower combined ratio (down to 48% for the quarter), etc. The corporation continues to pile up equity on its balance sheet (book value now at $28.91/share without exclusion of intangibles), and they bumped up their quarterly dividend to 32 cents from 29 cents.

Basically the housing market in Canada has not gone into a huge tailspin as reported by the media – companies like Genworth profit incredibly by no cataclysmic events going on in the economy. The other financial proxies for large housing defaults are Home Capital Group (TSX: HCG) and Equitable Group (TSX: ETC) and their equity prices do not show signs of any imminent collapse.

MIC’s results in the fourth quarter will be materially impacted by the recent federal government changes announced to mortgage insurance rules, however. But the investment theory is that even if MIC shut down and ran their book off, they’d still have a value much closer to book value than their current market value today.

Right now, this is all “treat” and no “trick”. Happy Halloween!

Genworth Financial / Genworth MI Canada S&P note

A credit rating note on Genworth Financial (NYSE: GNW) and impact on Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC):

Oct 11 - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said today that its 'AA-'
financial strength rating and 'A-' issuer credit rating on Genworth Financial
Mortgage Insurance Co. Canada and Genworth MI Canada Inc., respectively
(collectively referred to as Genworth Canada), and the stable outlook on these
ratings are unaffected by the recent downgrade of their ultimate parent and
majority shareholder, Genworth Financial Inc. (GNW) to BBB-/Negative/A-3
from BBB/Negative/A-2. The ratings on the Genworth U.S. life insurance companies
were also affected by these actions (for details see "Genworth Financial Inc.
Downgraded To 'BBB-'; Outlook Negative", published Oct 11, 2012, on
RatingsDirect on the Global Credit Portal). 

Although Genworth Canada is part of the GNW group, we consider there to be 
negligible links between the creditworthiness of GNW and Genworth Canada. We 
consider Genworth Canada to be non-strategically important to GNW. 
Accordingly, we attribute no support to the stand-alone credit rating on 
Genworth Canada from GNW. We are cognizant of the influence GNW has on its 
Canadian operations as a majority shareholder but, in our view, Genworth 
Canada has some protection against financial deterioration at the group level, 
aided by prudential supervision by the Office of the Superintendent of 
Financial Institutions, presence of independent directors on the boards of 
both the Canadian operating company and publicly listed holding company, and 
senior management/boards' recognition of the necessity of a financially strong 
entity in order to operate in the Canadian market, considering that the main 
competitor and largest player, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. 
(AAA/Stable/A-1+), is a highly rated federal government-owned entity. In the 
normal course of business, we expect Genworth Canada to return capital 
including payout of dividends. However, if the level of return of excess 
capital, in our view, hinders the company's very strong capitalization, the 
ratings could come under pressure.

The “non-strategic” nature of Genworth’s 57% investment in MIC would make it ripe for some sort of takeover bid if Genworth was going to fetch a reasonable price for MIC.

Misconceptions on Canadian mortgages

There have been quite a few media articles about how the recent rule changes has kneecapped the Canadian real estate market. It should be pointed out that these rule changes were strictly in the context of having CMHC (a federal crown corporation, so if they fail, then the public picks up the bill) insure such mortgages.

It does not include private lenders or insurers (such as Genworth (TSX: MIC)). So private lenders and insurers are free to make bone-headed decisions, such as providing zero-down financing and prime minus 1% rates to 450-rated credits if they deem it to be in their best interests.

Since the major chartered banks are really only interested in arbitraging their mortgage portfolio risk by getting CMHC to pick up the downside, they have been much more reluctant to give mortgages outside of the 25-year amortization, 5% down payment guidelines. The two major private lenders in the Canadian market are Equitable Group (TSX: ETC) and Home Capital Group (TSX: HCG) which have to make their own decisions with respect to giving out mortgages.

The share prices of both of these companies should be leading indicators with respect to the Canadian real estate market as a whole. The analogies in the USA, such as Novastar Financial, have long since gone insolvent for well-documented reasons. The semi-equivalent of CMHC, Freddic Mac and Fannie Mae are still publicly traded, but will not likely be returning capital to shareholders ever unless if the US government decides to make their obligations disappear.

I would be cautious of the Canadian private lenders without trying to thoroughly examining their loan portfolios. Doing this is not an easy job, even on the inside. They are producing disproportionately large earnings per share strictly through the usage of leverage, which in itself is not a bad thing, but you don’t know how secure those assets are. In the case of Equitable, one sees a company that has about $10 billion in mortgages outstanding, about $5.3 billion of it has been securitized (wrapping them up in happy packages, insuring them, and then selling to market) – the only problem of the securitized assets is that your net interest margins on them are piddling low – 0.49% in the last quarter, compared to the very relevant 2% more you get with the non-securitized assets.

ETC’s book value per common share is $27.46 (at June 30, 2012) and is currently trading at $31.49, so there is a premium assigned to their operations.

More Genworth MI propoganda

Another reason why Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC) is a cash machine is because delinquency rates have significantly decreased since the 2008-2009 financial crisis:

Also, a stress test scenario where unemployment goes from 8% to 11% and property values go down 15% (which seems to be a low number – higher decreases in property prices would increase severity):

Unless if there is a huge crash in the commodity market, I don’t see this happening. The crash might occur, but not when you have massively loose monetary policy like we do today. The only reason why the stock got as low as it did (bottoming out at $16.72) is betting on a massive real estate bust. Now those expectations are moderating somewhat.

Genworth MI Canada volatility

The past five days of trading of Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC):

The last day’s volatility (remember: volatility means down and up) is relatively unusual for the company. In the 722 trading days preceding this one, the largest volatility was a 7.4% increase in price on November 4, 2011. The largest volatility down was 5.2% down on October 17, 2011. Both of those days were on higher volume than today’s average. Today’s performance (5.61%) was its fifth most volatile day in its trading history.

The market is coming to my idea of fair value much sooner than I was originally thinking. It would be even nicer if Genworth sold it off for $30/share, but I digress.

Genworth MI Canada update

I am generally skeptical of stocks when they do parabolic-type increases that we have seen over the past two weeks of trading, but the obvious conclusion is that somebody presumably wanted to get their hands on some shares of Genworth MI Canada (TSX: MIC) quickly.

My theory is that whoever decided to do the “dump the shares slowly starting April until they’re gone” sale was gone after the couple high volume days in late July and then it was off to the races once that supply dump was concluded. This is one of those rare moments where I have some technical analysis insight (but alas it is still backward-looking).

What I find rather funny is that I (hopefully) timed the bottom relatively well (my average price is around $18/share) but I still feel quite bad that my entry wasn’t perfect. That is the emotional feel. The cold, hard rational world of mathematics, however, says that it is impossible to pick that exact bottom – you will not be that person picking up shares at $16.72 unless if you are very lucky and getting 100% of what you wanted in your portfolio at that bottom price.

With any luck the stock will get around to book value, which is around $26.30/share when you strip out intangibles. It won’t be a straight line otherwise I will start to really get worried. The dream scenario is if they’ve found somebody to buy out the subsidiary business of Genworth (NYSE: GNW). Heaven forbid if they fetch a premium to book value.

I will warn readers that now that I have a tendency of picking tops and bottoms when writing about upward and downward price spikes, respectively!