Yellow Media – are they done?

Yellow Media (TSX: Y, and thankfully no positions in equity or debt) reported today what can only be described as a near-disaster of a quarter.

The elephant in the room is what will be (after May 31, 2017) $295 million of 9.25% senior secured notes which mature on November 30, 2018. About 95% of this debt is owned by Canso Investment Counsel Ltd., who also owns 23% of the company’s equity.

In other words, the corporation’s future, short of a surprise turnaround in financial results, completely depend on what Canso’s intentions are. Presently they are able to extract a 9.25% coupon out of the corporation via the senior secured debt and I very much think they would be reluctant to relinquish what is a first-in-line cash stream.

There is a $107 million issue of 8% unsecured debentures trading on the TSX (TSX: YPG.DB) which is also about 30% owned by Canso (maturing on November 2022). The power of this class of securityholder is much more tenuous than it was before Yellow’s recapitalization (in other words – at 98 cents on the dollar it is trading too high given the risk profile). The conversion rate is at CAD$19.04/share which is has little value at the existing equity price of CAD$5.80/share.

The financial situation at Yellow has deteriorated and although they project $50-55 million in free cash flow for 2017, their revenues are continuing to decay and this trend is likely to continue as they morph into a digital consulting firm.

Since their market cap (after today’s 25% decline) is $160 million, it might appear the stock is cheap from a market cap to free cash flow basis. But this is a total illusion for two reasons. One is that the enterprise value of $562 million makes it expensive in light of the decaying free cash flow. The second and more powerful factor is Canso’s control motivation. The return opportunity for shareholders is going to be quite stunted, absent of some surprise takeover bid (doubtful, but this is up to Canso) simply because Canso has too much power and ability to extract capital in what is a financially unfavourable position to Yellow.

This is going to hurt the minority equity holders.

The business story is simple and everybody knows it – Yellow Pages used to be the business Google of the offline world. It is no longer.

No positions, not interested in any unless if somebody wants to sell me that senior secured debt, but sadly Canso owns most of it.

Re-examination of Yellow Media

I’ve written about Yellow Media (TSX: Y) extensively in the past on this site before their recapitalization.

I’ve been generally surprised at their financial performance – from 2014 to 2015, revenues dropped only 5% and while EBITDA margins have compressed (to around 31% from 36% before special items), the negative trajectory is flattening out rather than an accelerated drop. Notably they’ve been generating a ton of cash relative to their market capitalization – $73 million in 2014 and $122 million in 2015.

Balance sheet-wise, they are still leveraged. After their recapitalization, their senior secured debt holders receive a mandatory redemption payment of 75% of free cash flow. In 2015 they repaid about $100 million of debt and since the recapitalization (December 2012) the total has been $393 million, or nearly half the balance outstanding. It is probable that they will be able to redeem another $100 million in 2016 and by that point it should be evident they will be home free (in addition to paying less onerous financing charges).

They reserve the right to redeem more debt prior to May 31, 2017 for 105%, and afterwards at par value. Thus, it would make sense that the company would be aiming for June 1st for a refinancing of existing debt and a removal of the pesky covenants that have been restricting management’s ability to perform other functions with their capital.

The only other debt outstanding are unsecured debentures (TSX: YPG.DB) of which $107 million remain outstanding. These debentures have a coupon of 8% and mature on November 30, 2022 – quite a long-dated debenture. Only after the senior secured debentures are matured, these debentures can be called by the company at 110% of par anytime, or 100% after May 2021. The company can also choose to defer cash interest payments and accrue a 12% payment-in-kind provision but so far they have not exercised this route.

Another feature of these debentures is that they can be converted to Yellow common shares at $19.04 – which is barely above the existing market price of $18.95 on Friday’s close.

This creates an interesting valuation puzzle. Investors have functionally sold a call at 110% of par to the company contingent on the redemption of the senior secured debt, while they have an embedded call linked to the common share price.

In terms of business valuation, if Yellow Media’s revenue/EBITDA margin trajectory remains roughly what management projects (which amazingly to date has been generally the outcome), Yellow Media should be earning somewhere around $70 million in net income. This would work out to $2.50 per basic share outstanding (not accounting for dilution if the debentures convert). If there is a modest growth valuation assigned to the company, one can make a case that Yellow should be trading around $30/share and not the $19/share it is trading at presently.

This would place a valuation of about 150-160 cents on the dollar for the debentures, with relatively little downside from current market prices (the bid of 109 would go down to somewhere around par if the underlying business eroded faster than the current trajectory).

This also does not account for the time value of the at-the-money call option within the debentures – currently their warrants with a strike of $28.16 (nearly 50% above current market value) and an expiry of December 2022 trades at $4.13, so there is clearly time value in the call option.

The warrants are unattractive because break-even would be a common share price of $36/share (i.e. if you bought warrants at $4.13 vs. common shares at $18.96, you would do equally well with an investment if the common went up to $36/share at expiration – note your warrants would do significantly better if $36/share was reached prior to expiry).

While I am not interested in the common shares or warrants, I did buy a small amount of debentures near par in January with the expectation of holding onto them until they are likely redeemed (or if the common shares trade above $20.94, converted). They are a low risk, medium reward type investment. I will caution anybody wanting to trade them that you should be prepared for a very slow market and part of the reason why I have such a small holding is because of the relative market illiquidity.