Thumb twiddling

The biggest mistake any investor can do is just invest cash for the purpose of investing it in something instead of investing it in something proper.

Hence, I am still twiddling my thumbs.

Curiously I do notice Encana (TSX: ECA) is up about 6% despite the fact that natural gas futures are still depressed. Might be a sign of short covering?

I’ve also been doing some research on R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (NYSE: RRD) – I have owned their corporate debt in the past so I have not had to do much additional work. They are facing the same issues that Yellow Media had, mainly a good chunk of their business (catalogs and cheque printing) is getting enveloped by the online world. Still, the company is hugely cash flow positive and doesn’t even have the debt albatross that Yellow Media has. If it wasn’t for the fact that they are a well-known case, I might dip my toes in.

There are a couple other smallish-cap companies ($100M-$250M range) that I am reluctant to mention here that seem to have very compelling valuations, plus almost no financial pundits are paying any attention to them.

The great thing about having a large cash position is that it feels like I am working with a blank canvass. Despite earning almost nothing in yield for cash, I also do not feel pressured to make any portfolio decisions. If I have to wait out an entire year without hitting any candidates, so be it.

Unloading some more long term debt

One of my corporate long-term debt holdings in R.R. Donnelley (NYSE: RRD) has been trading significantly higher since my purchase point in 2009. I had invested in the 6.625% October 2029 debenture, via a trust preferred security (NYSE: PYS), which has a coupon of 6.3%.

Although I had been sitting on large unrealized gains on the issue and was intending to dispose of it in 2011, the trading above 24 proved to be too tempting so I unloaded it and realized gains. Although it’s entirely possible the bonds will continue trading this high in a couple months, I didn’t want to take the gamble.

Mathematically, assuming a continuous yield (which the trust preferreds do not trade as; they trade “as-is”), the PYS security would have a pre-tax current yield of 6.5% and an implied capital gain over 18.9 years of 0.2%. This is below what you can get with some shorter duration fixed income securities, so disposing of this will be a good decision assuming I can deploy capital more efficiently in the future.

The equity in RR Donnelley at this moment appears to look like a better investment than its long-term debt – the company’s cash generation is significant and its debt is termed out properly and has been managed well, so there is unlikely to be a liquidity risk with the operation. Even if you assume they do absolutely nothing but earn income at the rate they have been doing in the past 9 months (a false assumption due to seasonality in their business), the equity will be yielding a minimum of 7.6% at present prices – a compensation of about 1% over debt. When you factor some very conservative growth assumptions, it skews significantly in favour toward the equity relative to the debt.

In terms of overall portfolio movement, my long-term debt holdings have shrunk again and cash has increased. If/when long-term government bond yields start to rise this should prove to be a good move.