Mad Retail Muppet – on Aimia debt

Daniel Austin has transitioned to a new site, the Mad Retail Muppet. On his first post in his forays with Aimia’s corporate debt, I am happy to bring his site to your attention.

I’m sure the 10 or 20 human visitors here will find excellent reading on his site.

I’ll add some value by saying:

* Aimia’s 2018 debt matures on January 22, 2018 and will likely mature. Their 2019 debt matures on May 17, 2019 and has a 5.6% coupon. They’re not actively traded via IB, but via Questrade they are currently being asked for at 84 cents (or YTM of 15.3% – noting these are the regular bonds and not the strip bonds). Retail bond pricing typically incorporates a VERY healthy price spread over what should be the existing market price (i.e. an institutional investor would likely get at least a couple cents better pricing, thus a higher YTM).

* The YTM of this debt issue should give you an idea of what I think about the preferred shares, which are trading at a yield of roughly 11% at present (AIM.PR.A/B).

* Taking a $456 capital loss (pre-tax!) on this debt transaction is a very low tuition cost. It’s even less than the cost of a typical 3-credit course at my old university!

* Daniel’s deferred revenue/cost analysis is spot-on: if Aeroplan members go on a Home Capital Group-style bank run on their Aeroplan accounts, Aimia is hard-pressed to pay – such is the perils of investing in a company with a negative tangible equity of some $3.1 billion! This alone is a major reason why I would not touch anything in this corporation’s capital structure.

* It’s obvious Aimia has another choice they will execute on in the future – watering down their rewards pricing. Legally speaking, if they were to double the price of all rewards, what recourse does the consumer have?

Let’s check the terms and conditions

In particular, you acknowledge and accept as a condition of continued membership that:

1. Aeroplan Miles have no monetary value whatsoever and cannot under any circumstances form the basis of a monetary claim against Aeroplan.

5. Aeroplan assumes no liability to members whatsoever by reason of the termination of, or amendment to, the Aeroplan Program, in whole or in part, the addition or deletion of reward partners (including Air Canada), limitations on the availability of flights or seats, changes made by Aeroplan Partners to their terms and conditions, or any change made in accordance with sections 6 to 8 below.

Looks like the program (similar to Air Miles) is an unregulated confidence game – the only recourse Aimia has to watering down their product (or Air Miles) is the loss of consumer confidence. Not much of a remedy.

As a side note, I’m anxiously awaiting my $100 gas gift card in the mail.

Avoided another time bomb – Aimia

Aimia (specifically their preferred shares) were suggested to me a year ago as a reasonable risk/reward and a relatively high yield.

I declined. Today is the reason that I saw would likely happen.

Air Canada will be ending their business with them in 2020.

Everything in their capital structure is trading massively down – common shares are down over 50%, and preferred shares are down about 30%.

Good market timers could have bought when the margin calls were starting to flood in at around 10:00am Eastern time. The preferred shares at one point in time were down even more than the common shares.

(Update, I have included the chart of AIM.PR.A for illustration below)

I have no idea what the business prospects of Aimia is (although this news about Air Canada is VERY negative) and thus I will still not touch them.

I will, however, be a little more diligent at liquidating the meager amount of Aeroplan points I still have remaining – companies like Aimia can decrease deferred revenue liabilities by simply increasing the cost of “rewards” that their customers have already pre-paid for (can you tell what I don’t like about their business?).