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?

Pengrowth Energy Debentures

This will be a short one since my research is done and my trades have long since executed. I will not get into the sticky details of the analysis.

Pengrowth Energy has CAD$137 million outstanding of unsecured convertible debentures (TSX: PGF.DB.B), maturing March 31, 2017. The coupon is 6.25%, and the conversion rate is CAD$11.51/share (which is unlikely to be achieved unless if oil goes to $200/barrel in short order).

Because of what has been going on in the oil and gas market, the debt has been trading at distressed levels. It bottomed out in January at around 47 cents on the dollar (this was a one day spike on a liquidation sale), but generally hovered around the 60-65 level. It is trading at 88 cents today.

It is much, much more likely than not it will mature at par.

There are a few reasons for this.

The debentures are the first slice of debt to mature. Pengrowth’s capitalization is through a series of debt issues with staggered maturities.

Pengrowth has a credit facility which expires well past the maturity date and is mostly under-utilized and can easily handle the principal payment of the debentures.

Pengrowth’s cost structure is also not terrible in relation to the operations of other oil firms.

Today, Seymour Schulich publicly filed his ownership of 80 million shares of Pengrowth, which equates to just under 15% of the company. Seymour Schulich owned 4% of Canadian Oil Sands before it got taken over by Suncor, so I’m guessing he was looking for another place to store his money in the meantime. I think he picked well. Schulich also owns 42 million shares (28%) of Birchcliff Energy (TSX: BIR), so with these two holdings, he owns a very healthy stake in both oil and gas.

This last piece of information seals up the fact that barring another disaster in the commodity price for oil that the debentures will mature at par. The only question at this point is whether they’ll redeem for cash or shares (95% of VWAP), but I am guessing it will be cash.

Even at 88 cents on the dollar, an investor would be looking at a 13.6% capital gain and a 6.25% interest payment for a 1 year investment. This is under the assumption there is not an earlier redemption by the company.

I was in earlier this year at a lower cost. I will not be selling and will let this one redeem at maturity.

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.