Selling debentures above par value

The decision to sell debentures that are trading above par value is an interesting challenge of capital allocation and tax optimization. Assuming the premium is dictated by the underlying company’s likeliness to pay rather than a conversion premium, there are a few variables to consider. A real-life example is the best illustration.

The company formerly known as True Energy Trust (now Bellatrix Exploration) has an $86M issue of 7.5% debentures that are scheduled to mature on June 30, 2011, which is 1.4 years away. The underlying company is otherwise debt-free and has recently performed a successful equity offering to fund the next year of capital projects. Additionally, the company has a market capitalization that would suggest that even if it was not able to raise capital before the maturation of debt, that they would be able to equitize the debt upon the maturity date.

In other words, getting paid out is a very likely scenario and would only take extraordinary risks (fraud or an absolute collapse in oil prices, etc.) over the next 1.4 years to prevent debenture holders from getting paid.

The debentures have a call provision, where the company can purchase the debentures at 105 cents before June 30, 2010 and 102.5 cents after June 30, 2010. It is unlikely they will use this call provision before June 30, 2010, but there is a low probability chance they will use it just after June 30, 2010, which implies a 4.9% yield to maturity on June 30, 2010. The company will only exercise this option if they can raise cheap money – it doesn’t necessarily have to be at a lower coupon than 4.9%, but rather an extension of the maturity is the functional objective.

In terms of tax optimization, the debentures were purchased at a cost basis significantly lower than par value, which means there is a bottled up capital gain embedded within them if I choose to sell them in 2010. The other decision is to wait until January 1, 2011, which means capital gains taxes will be deferred to an April 2012 cheque to the CRA. I will also be receiving interest income as a reward for patiently waiting.

The debentures are trading at 101.5 cents between the bid and the ask, which means that I can sell today and receive a 1.5 cent capital premium in exchange for the interest I will forego between now and June 30, 2011. This does not match up to the 10.5 cents of interest income I would receive between now and the maturity date. In terms of the capital that I am locking up to receive this interest rate, it implies my current yield is 7.4% and my capital gain will be -1.3% annualized assuming I do not sell today.

In order for a sell decision to be worthwhile, I would need to be able to realize a total yield of greater than 6.3% on my subsequent investment, not factoring in the tax liability, which would increase my hurdle rate by requiring me to divide 6.3% by (1-t), where t is the marginal tax rate for selling.

Since there is nothing with this return for a comparable risk that is not already in my portfolio, it means I will be holding onto the debentures for the next little while and keep on accruing interest. 6.3% at present is about 5% better than what I can get at ING Direct for risk-free money, so taking a very slight risk for a 5% premium still is very worthwhile.