General Comments – Canadian Debenture Market

I’ve finished my comprehensive sweep of the Canadian debenture market. Nothing much has changed except a bit of price weakness which can likely be attributed to the volatility seen this week. Very broadly, I’m not finding anything overly attractive in this marketplace.

On the TSX side, the exceptional items on the radar include the question of when Lanesborough (TSX: LRT.DB.G) will be formally going belly-up – you can buy their zero-yielding debt for under 10 cents on the dollar. Another luminary is Discovery Air (TSX: DA.DB.A), where you can gamble that the controlling entity (who controls most of the senior secured debt outstanding) will be generous enough to let the unsecured debentureholders get away with some cash.

There are quite a few of the smaller oil and gas issuers that are showing signs of financial stress. This is likely due to the fact that Alberta and Saskatchewan oil producers are facing a CAD$22/barrel selling price deficit with no signs of this going away. It turns out that it’s really difficult to sell crude oil when you can’t transport it anywhere! I’m guessing the majors (Suncor, etc.) are just licking their lips and are preparing for an acquisition spree once the less solvent juniors are forced into CCAA submission. I still maintain, for now, that fixed income investors in fossil fuel producers will be likely to make more money (or perhaps lose less of it) than the equity side.

It is also interesting to see how Kinder Morgan Canada Limited (TSX: KML) has not traded down much given the news from British Columbia’s government that will be implementing further regulations on the transport of diluted bitumen. The payload is in the last line of the backgrounder of the release:

In order to protect B.C.’s environmental and economic interests while the advisory panel is proceeding, the Province is proposing regulatory restrictions to be placed on the increase of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) transportation.

KML does continue to operate the existing Trans Mountain pipeline (map), and since there is effectively a moratorium on long-distance fossil fuel pipeline building in the country, it does make existing pipeline infrastructure more valuable.

This hostility to fossil fuels is one reason (high taxation is another) why retail gasoline prices in Vancouver are the highest in Canada, short of remote northern areas. This will continue to go higher as the provincial government will be raising carbon taxes over (at least) the next four years.

As an interesting side note, retail gasoline in Vancouver, BC is currently at $1.43 per litre, while a little down the border in Washington State, it is US$2.68 per gallon, which works out to about 87 cents per litre.

State of the Canadian Debenture Market

I find the Financial Post’s compilation of Canadian exchange-traded debentures to be a very handy list to refer to. It is not comprehensive (there are a few issuers here and there missing) but for the most part is a full snapshot of the market environment.

Looking at the list, I think it is a very good time for Canadian companies of questionable credit quality to be issuing debt. Most of the debt on this list is trading at yields that do not properly represent (my own evaluation of) their risk.

Accordingly my research time is increasingly on the equity side of things in the non-indexed space. A great example of my readings included the Kinder Morgan Canada prospectus, worthy of a future post!

With regards to the debentures, I’ve sorted the debt by yield to maturity and decided to arbitrarily cut things off at 8%:

IssuerSymbolCouponMaturityYTMPithy Notes
Discovery AirDA.DB.A8.38%30-Jun-18118.28%Way behind secured debt, no control
Lanesbourough REITLRT.DB.G5.00%30-Jun-2259.10%Insolvent
Gran Columbia Gold CorpGCM.DB.U1.00%11-Aug-1843.99%81% mandatory equity conversion
Primero MiningP.DB.V5.75%28-Feb-2021.85%Operational mess, solvency issues
Argex Mining Inc.RGX.DB8.00%30-Sep-1919.07%Illiquid, no revenues!
Toscana EnergyTEI.DB6.75%30-Jun-1817.27%Senior Debt to cash flow is high
Gran Columbia Gold CorpGCM.DB.V6.00%02-Jan-2015.14%I own this
Westernone EquityWEQ.DB6.25%30-Jun-2013.94%Likely equity conversion June 30, 2018
Entrec Corp.ENT.DB8.50%30-Jun-2113.02%Cash flow negative, senior debt high
Temple HotelsTPH.DB.D7.75%30-Jun-1711.78%One month to maturity
Difference CapitalDCF.DB8.00%31-Jul-189.56%Payback not certain
Temple HotelsTPH.DB.E7.25%30-Sep-179.47%4 months to maturity
Fortress PaperFTP.DB.A7.00%31-Dec-199.22%Never figured them out
Temple HotelsTPH.DB.F7.00%31-Mar-188.11%How much $ does Morguard have?

I really don’t see anything worth locking capital into in this table at present prices. I do own one of these convertible debentures, but it is at a price where I would not buy (or sell) – my purchase price is from much lower prices and it is the only debt on this list that gives a warm and fuzzy “secured by all assets and nobody can step in front of me” arrangement.

I also note that the table is missing Yellow Media and Grenville Royalty which are both trading at 9% and 16%, respectively, but they are both unattractive for various reasons.