Q2-2017 Performance Report

Portfolio Performance

My very unaudited portfolio performance in the second quarter of 2017, the three months ended June 30, 2017 is approximately +0.6%. The year-to-date performance for the 6 months ended June 30, 2017 is +19.3%.

My 11 year, 6 month compounded annual growth rate performance is +18.2% per year.

Portfolio Percentages

At June 30, 2017 (change from Q1-2017):

20% common equities (-4%)
28% preferred share equities (+8%)
31% corporate debt (-7%)
4% net equity options (+1%)
18% cash and cash equivalents (+3%)

Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.

USD exposure: 52% (+2%)

Portfolio is valued in CAD (CAD/USD 0.7714);
Other values derived per account statements.

Portfolio commentary

All things considered, the nearly flat performance was a good indicator of a relatively boring quarter – there was very little theatrics to discuss. Major portfolio decisions include liquidating my KCG Holdings equity stake, and retaining the equity options until the last possible nanosecond before expiration. I will promptly liquidate the position if the market is acceptably close to the USD$20.00 cash buyout number (or I will just wait for the transaction to proceed). This will result in an effective liquidation of another 4% of the portfolio. I also have another 4% position in their senior secured bonds which will be called out after the transaction completes, which should be around July 21st (after the quarter-end). The net result of these transactions are that the portfolio is effectively 25% cash and I have no idea where to deploy it beyond VGSH (USD) and VSB.TO (CAD) – at least with those I get paid around 125 basis points to wait.

Sadly my entries into the VGSH/VSB.TO short-term fixed income vehicles has been incredibly lacklustre – with continued threats of rising interest rates, even these short duration vehicles are taking a minor hit of capital value – an inexpensive lesson that yield is rarely risk-free.

I took a single digit percent position in a company trading well under tangible book value and earning positive income and cash flows during the quarter. I estimate when the market wakes up to this position (there has been little if any analyst coverage, nor has there been any public exposure to it at all) it will trade up to double its present value. I won’t write about this one until it appreciates or my original investment thesis is incorrect. There is a credible reason why there is still price pressure even at the depressed levels. The company has spent most of its public life trading around 25% higher than what it is trading at right now.

This was my first new common share position in over a year. I’ve been close to pulling the trigger on some other ones but they didn’t quite reach the correct price point.

I also took a non-trivial stake in DRM.PR.A preferred shares. I’ve been in and out of this over the past couple years, but this time I suspect it will be a staple position for quite some time. It only requires 33% margin so it is not too much of an anchor to keep, especially since the spread between the margin rate and the dividend rate is huge. This is effectively a “cash parking” vehicle until they get called away by the parent company (I was expecting this to happen quite some time ago). When it happens I will have the problem of more capital going from a near-guaranteed 7% tax-preferred income to 1%. It is my hope that management continues to ignore this issue (other than paying quarterly dividends). I wouldn’t buy it at the current premium.

That’s about it for the quarter.

In terms of price movements, there were three items which caused negative portfolio movements. Genworth MI took collateral damage with regards to the collapse of Home Capital Group, but has swiftly recovered from reaching a low of about $30.50/share. At that level, Genworth MI was in the low end of my price range, but it wasn’t low enough that I would re-purchase shares. Conversely, it is too cheap to sell at present prices. So I will be waiting and continuing to collect 44 cent quarterly dividends until the market decides that the equity is worth more.

Teekay Corporation unsecured debt also significantly declined to reflect the calamity that is hitting their offshore division, but I do not believe the underlying value of this debt is compromised by virtue of the value of their natural gas division. This was the primary detractor from my portfolio performance this quarter. At a YTM of 13%, investors have a decent risk/reward situation at current prices.

The third detractor to performance was the Canadian dollar – as it appreciates, although I appreciate the purchasing power, it does detract negatively on my US dollar components. Since my portfolio is nearly 50/50 CAD/USD, each percent the Canadian dollar rises means a half percent drop in my portfolio value.

Finally, Gran Colombia Gold announced they will be redeeming 5.7% of their 2020 senior secured debt outstanding at par. I will be pocketing the cash and looking forward to future payments – this series of debt is first in line, secured by a gold mine and an investor can be patient to collect on the debt. Although I do not have a place to deploy the cash, I look forward to receiving the payment and reducing my concentration in this particular debt issuer (I purchased most of the senior secured debt at around 55-60 cents on the dollar). The two relevant risks here are the political stability in Colombia (which is not bad at present) and the price of gold continuing to meander at its present level – or go higher. 75% of the free cash flows from the company have to go towards redeeming the senior secured debt due in 2020, so over time I will expect to get paid back.

The portfolio underperformed the S&P 500 slightly, while outperforming the TSX. I do not invest for relative returns, but psychologically it always feels better to know that somebody is losing more money than I am. The portfolio in the last quarter has also underperformed my 11.5 year CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate), but this is to be expected given my very risk-adverse positioning at present. I will warn readers that my +18.2% CAGR is likely to decline in the upcoming quarters as making a percent or two each quarter is below the +18.2%/year benchmark.

Outlook

Crude oil markets are trending significantly lower than what most participants thought would be happening. This is having a significant impact on most Canadian oil and gas companies, whom have been continuing to address leverage matters. While prices imply there is pressure, it is not yet at a crisis point that it was back in February 2016, but if the prevailing trend continues, it definitely appears that there will be some more fractures in the Canadian oil and gas space due to excessive leverage levels. There may be opportunities in the debt market at this point (witness the calamity hitting Teekay right now).

In the USA broad market, the S&P 500 is dominated by the top 10 companies (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, etc.) and when extracting out those liquidity high-flyers, we have a market that is treading water and some targets of opportunity are starting to emerge that have value-like characteristics. However, the US federal reserve is slowly tightening the screws in terms of loose monetary policy and this most certainly will have a continued dampening effect on equity valuation as the cost of capital continues to rise. They are doing this slowly as to not trigger a market crash, but most participants should be alerted that the 30-year treasury bond, currently at a yield of about 2.8%, is not rising despite the rising-rate environment. This is something to be very cautious about.

The Bank of Canada also spooked the markets in the second week of June when they were making public noise about increasing the interest rates. Although I do not predict they will take much action, if any, until the corresponding long bond rates rise, this may have the effect of putting a bottom on the slow and steady decline of the Canadian dollar. Clearly the commodity markets are not helping Canadian currency, and if there is some sort of return in commodities, then the Canadian dollar would actually be better positioned for a rise.

In general, I continue to remain bearish. Although this stance has not been in correspondence with the major indicies (which have risen considerably), my portfolio continues to generate a positive return while remaining extremely risk-adverse at present time. I am of the general belief that index investing continues to dislocate pricing in the market from true value and this trend is not likely to abate until such a point that it is identified that pouring capital in a non-price discriminatory vehicle is not a prudent way to invest money – instead, it is diversifying through obscurity and not achieving true risk reduction.

I am finding it very difficult to invest cash in this environment. It is painful to wait, but waiting I will do.

The average maturity term on my debt portfolio is just a shade over 30 months. This will continue to lower as my issuers go down to maturity. I am not interested in long-duration bonds at all at the moment.

I project over the rest of this year, if things go to a reasonable level of fruition, that I will see another 2-3% of appreciation, while taking little risk. This is also assuming that I do not see further candidates for investing the non-trivial amount of cash in the portfolio. Nothing imminent is on the horizon. My research pipeline has been bone-dry.

To put a polite summary to my investment prospects, I feel stuck. Little in the pipeline and little of inspiration. Waiting is not popular, but it will allow me to preserve capital for the time where it will be more appreciated.

(Update, July 17, 2017: After doing my internal audit, the quarterly performance was revised from +0.7% to +0.6% for the quarter. The year-to-date was revised from +18.7% to +19.3% due to a rather embarrassing formula error on the tracking spreadsheet. The changes are reflected in the numbers above. The 11.5 year CAGR remains unchanged.)

Portfolio - Q2-2017 - Historical Performance

Performance and TSX Composite is measured in CAD$; S&P 500 is measured in US$. Total returns indices are with dividends reinvested at time of receipt.
YearDivestor PortfolioS&P 500 (Price Return)S&P 500
(Total Return)
TSX Comp. (Price Return)TSX Comp.
(Total Return)
11.5 Years (CAGR):+18.2%+5.9%+8.2%+2.6%+5.6%
2006+3.0%+13.6%+15.6%+14.5%+17.3%
2007+11.7%+3.5%+5.5%+7.2%+9.8%
2008-9.2%-38.5%-36.6%-35.0%-33.0%
2009+104.2%+23.5%+25.9%+30.7%+35.1%
2010+28.0%+12.8%+14.8%+14.5%+17.6%
2011-13.4%+0.0%+2.1%-11.1%-8.7%
2012+2.0%+13.4%+15.9%+4.0%+7.2%
2013+52.9%+29.6%+32.2%+9.6%+13.0%
2014-7.7%+11.4%+13.5%+7.4%+10.6%
2015+9.8%-0.7%+1.3%-11.1%-8.3%
2016+53.6%+9.5%+12.0%+17.5%+20.4%
Q1-2017+18.6%+5.5%+6.1%+1.7%+2.2%
Q2-2017+0.6%+2.6%+3.1%-2.4%-1.6%

Turning down a very likely 12% annualized return

There is a catch to the title – the 12% annualized return is in the form of a 6.6% return over six and a half months.

I have mentioned this before (at much higher yields) but Pengrowth Energy debentures (TSX: PGF.DB.B) is probably the best low-risk/medium-reward opportunity in the entire Canadian debt market today. At the current price of 97 cents (plus 5.5 months of accrued interest payments), you are nearly guaranteed to receive 100 cents plus two interest payments of 3.125% each. The math is simple – for every 97 cents invested today (plus 5.5 months coupon which you’d get 6 months back at the end of September), you will get 103.4 cents on March 31, 2017, the maturity date. This is a 6.6% return or about 12% annualized.

By virtue of Pengrowth’s debt term structure, this one gets the first crack at being paid by their billion-dollar credit facility which was untapped at the last quarterly report.

The only risk of any relevance is that the company will opt to exchange the debt for shares of PGF at 95% of the 20-day volume-weighted average price, but considering that the debenture face value is $126 million vs. the current market cap of $1.1 billion, the equity would not incur too much toxicity if management decided to do a virtual secondary offering at current share prices.

The company did give plenty of warning that at June 30, 2016, current oil/gas price levels and a 75 cent Canadian dollar would result in them potentially blowing their covenants in mid-2017. But this is of little concern to the March 31, 2017 debenture holder. They will get cashed out at par, either in cash or shares.

I own some of these debentures, which I purchased earlier this year when things were murkier and much more attractively priced. Given some recent liquidations in my portfolio, I could have reinvested cash proceeds into this apparently very low risk proposition. But I did not.

So why would I want to decline such a no-brainer opportunity and instead funnel it into a short-term bond ETF (specifically the very-low yielding Vanguard Short-Term Canadian Bond Index ETF at TSX:VSB)?

The reason is liquidity.

In any sort of financial stress situation, debt of entities that are “near guarantees” are traded for cash, and you will suddenly see that 97 cent bid moved down as entities are pressured to liquidate. For securities that are precious and safe, such as government AAA bonds, there is an anti-correlation to market pricing that occurs and ETFs holding these securities will be bidded up in response.

VSB is not something that you are going to see move up or down 5% overnight in a real panic situation, but it will retain its liquidity in stressful financial moments. The selection of VSB is different than the longer-term cousin, which has more rate sensitivity, but something has changed in the marketplace where equity and longer term debt asset classes have decided to trade in lock-step: as demonstrated in last week’s trading in Japan and the Euro-zone. When equities and long-term government debt (nearly zero-yielding, if not negative) trade in the same direction, it gets me to notice and contemplate what is going on.

The tea leaves I have been reading in the market suggest something strange is going on with respect to bond yields, the negative-interest rate policies and their correlation to equities. I’m not intelligent enough to figure it out completely, but what I do know is that putting it into so-called “low risk” opportunities like Pengrowth debentures come at future liquidity costs in cash if I needed to liquidate them before maturity. Six and a half months can be a long time in a crisis situation, and we all see what is going on in the US President Election – markets are once again seriously considering Donald Trump’s election now that Hillary clearly isn’t healthy enough to be Commander-in-Chief of the US Military. The public will ask themselves: If she can’t stand up to attend a 15-year memorial of 9/11, what makes you think she will be able to stand up when the terrorists strike the homeland again?

The markets have vastly evolved since last February where things were awash in opportunities. Today, I am seeing very little that can be safely invested in, which is getting me to change what I am looking for, but also telling me that I should relax on the accelerator, raise cash, and keep it in a safe and liquid form until the seas start getting stormy again. And my gut instinct says exactly that: winter is coming.

Best places to park short-term, nearly-risk free Canadian cash

As a result of the Bank of Canada’s decision to hold the overnight interest rate target at 0.5%, options for Canadian dollar cash balances are bleak.

Cash can always be held at zero yield and would be immediately available for deployment.

There are also financial institutions that will allow you to lock your money in for a 1-year GIC and earn around a 1.25% risk-free return. However, the sacrifice in liquidity in the event that you would want to deploy such capital is unacceptable from an investment perspective. One can also purchase a cashable GIC (typically redeemable within 30 days after purchase) that earns slightly less yield – my local BC credit union offers such a product with a 0.85% yield.

I was curious as to the best exchange-traded products that would offer some yield at the lowest risk.

There are basically two options. They are (TSX: XSB) and (TSX: VSB). Both are short-term government bond funds. VSB is significantly cheaper on management expenses (0.11% vs. 0.28% for XSB), and both portfolios offer similar durations (roughly 2.8 years), and VSB has slightly better credit quality (55% weight to AAA instead of 50% for XSB). VSB should eventually have a better net yield after expenses (roughly 1.1%) due to the smaller MER. While the 1.1% net return is small, it is better than zero and is nearly risk free – there is anti-correlation between general market movement and the likely price movement of this fund – the capital gain on VSB should rise if there was some sort of crisis due to the heavy government bond exposure of the fund.

Another alternative which is deceptively cash-like but will not serve any purpose if you wish to save money for some sort of financial crisis is the high-quality corporate bond fund also offered by Vanguard (TSX: VSC). Although VSC will offer you another 80 basis points of yield, it has the disadvantage of likely having a liquidity premium in the event there was some adverse financial event – i.e. your cash-out price will likely be materially less than NAV.

All three ETFs trade at modest premiums to NAV.