Archive for the ‘Press Clippings’ Category

A close-up look at preferred share ETFs, a mega-hit with investors turned surprise money-loser

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Rob Carrick was kind enough to quote me in his piece A close-up look at preferred share ETFs, a mega-hit with investors turned surprise money-loser:

The people selling preferred shares and the ETFs that hold them include investors who used rate reset preferreds as a way to profit from rising interest rates, said James Hymas, a preferred-share specialist who manages the Malachite Aggressive Preferred Fund for high-net-worth investors.

“The other class of sellers are people who are selling just because these shares are going down,” Mr. Hymas said. “They’ve take pretty significant losses in the last eight months or so and they’re saying, ‘I’m out.’”

Mr. Hymas’s guideline for investing in preferred shares is that you should only use money you’re pretty sure you’re not going to need for 10 years or more. That way, you can ride through the periods of volatility that seem to be inevitable in a world where interest rates keep defying expectations. Pref shares are particularly attractive in non-registered accounts, where the dividend tax credit applies.

Bond yields could definitely fall further, so there’s a risk that the yield from rate reset preferreds might be lower still. But Mr. Hymas points out that there’s nothing exceptional about holding income-producing investments that renew at lower yields.

This happens all the time when investors use five-year ladders of guaranteed investment certificates. That’s where you invest equal amounts in GICs with terms of one through five years and then invest maturing GICs back into a new five-year term. Anyone who has done this in recent years knows that it’s common to renew at lower rates.

It’s also important to understand that the problems faced by preferred share ETFs have nothing to do with the quality of the securities they hold. While Mr. Hymas points out that some less financially solid companies have entered the preferred share market in the past 10 years or so, most issuers are big banks and other blue chips that can be relied on to pay their dividends.

Preferred share ETFs are a hostage to interest rates, then. The rate reset shares they mostly or exclusively hold are pummelled when rates fall and they’ll have their day when rates rise. “As a matter of fact, I think they’re going to shine even if things stay the way they are now,” Mr. Hymas said. “I believe they’re totally oversold at this point.”

Winners and Losers in the Bond-Yield Collapse

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

John Heinzl was kind enough to quote me in his latest piece, Winners and Losers in the Bond-Yield Collapse:

If you haven’t checked guaranteed investment certificate rates recently, you’re in for a shock. After climbing for most of 2018, GIC yields have gone into reverse. A five-year GIC at Tangerine, for instance, now pays just 2.5 per cent annually, down from 3.1 per cent as recently as November. Government bonds are even less attractive. The five-year Canada bond now yields less than inflation – the Consumer Price Index rose 1.5 per cent in February – which means bond investors are earning a negative real return, said James Hymas of Hymas Investment Management. “And that’s before taxes,” he said.

Why preferred shares plunged …

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

John Heinzl was kind enough to mention me in his Investor Clinic column today titled Why preferred shares plunged, and the ACBs of the Loblaw deal:

James Hymas, who manages a preferred share fund and writes the PrefLetter, said the recent drop may have been exacerbated by tax-loss selling, in which investors dump losing stocks in order to offset capital gains on their winners.

“There’s also a certain amount of ‘fighting the last war’ syndrome,” Mr. Hymas said in an e-mail. “People remember what happened the last couple of times the Bank of Canada cut its [benchmark] rate (January 2015, especially) and are terrified it will happen again.”

Despite those fears, after the recent drop many preferred shares now offer even more attractive yields. That’s especially true considering that preferred shares, unlike corporate bonds, qualify for the dividend tax credit. What’s more, assuming the five-year Canada yield stays roughly where it is, most preferreds will actually raise their dividends – not lower them – on the next reset date, Mr. Hymas said.

“My advice to current holders of preferreds remains the same as it was during the credit crunch: Shut up and clip your coupons,” he said.

Assessing the value of the minimum reset yield

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Barry Critchley was kind enough to mention me in his piece Assessing the value of the minimum reset yield:

The minimum rate reset feature has some value for the investor and could become real value in five years if the five-year Canada bond rate is below the current five-year rate. The question is whether investors are being rewarded now.

James Hymas, portfolio manager of the Malachite Aggressive Preferred Fund and publisher of the PrefBlog thinks they’re not. “I think it’s overly reflective in the price, but given the current yield on five-year Canada bonds (around 1.70 per cent) the current value is minimal.”

Hymas said the minimum reset has value if in five years, the five-year Canada rate is below 1.70 per cent, a level that’s “significantly below the target inflation rate,” of two per cent set by the Bank of Canada, and not far from the record low five-year rate.

In Hymas’s view, a coupon that starts with a five is required. In the meantime, he says that better value lies in the secondary market.

What is a ‘Canada call’ and why was my bond redeemed early?

Friday, October 20th, 2017

John Heinzl was kind enough to mention me in his recent article What is a ‘Canada call’ and why was my bond redeemed early?:

In April of 2009, I purchased a 10-year Manulife bond that yields 7.768 per cent and matures on April 8, 2019. However, in early October, I looked at my discount brokerage account and was surprised to see that Manulife had “redeemed” the bond. I have never heard of a bond being redeemed at the behest of the issuer. Is this legal?


“That’s known in the business as a Canada call and it’s very common,” said James Hymas, president of Hymas Investment Management. “One of the very important things to do when investing in corporate debt is to look at the call provisions, because they will almost always be there somewhere.”

Generally, companies will only redeem bonds when it is in their best interests (or when required because of the terms of the issue). When Government of Canada bond yields were at historic lows, it wasn’t advantageous for Manulife to redeem the notes because it would have had to pay a steep price. But when government yields started to spike several months ago – and as the maturity date approached – redemption became attractive, Mr Hymas said.

Manulife announced on Aug. 15 that it intended to redeem the notes and, on Oct. 3 it said the redemption price would be $1,073.81 (per $1,000 face amount) plus accrued interest of $38.52. The redemption price was based on the second option in the prospectus, as it was higher than par. This equates to a yield to maturity (YTM) of 2.73 per cent, Mr. Hymas said. (If you’re wondering why the YTM is lower than the 7.768-per-cent coupon rate, it’s because the notes were trading above par.)

“They essentially bought back their old debt at a yield of 2.73 per cent and were able to replace that with an extension of term of more than five years and with debt that was actually subordinated and that’s a good deal for them. They’re only paying about 32 basis points [in additional yield] and that’s a bargain,” he said. (Subordinated debt, with its higher risk from a bondholder’s perspective, would normally carry a higher interest rate than senior debt.)

Are these preferreds a 5-per-cent solution?

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Rob Carrick was kind enough to quote me in his piece Are these preferreds a 5-per-cent solution?:

James Hymas, president of Hymas Investment Management and a preferred-share specialist, said there are roughly a dozen blue-chip perpetual issues that combine a straightforward structure with a share price below their $25 issue price. These shares, issued by Brookfield Asset Management, Canadian Utilities, E-L Financial, Power Corp. of Canada and Power Financial, had an average yield of 5.1 per cent as of earlier this week.

Mr. Hymas said perpetuals could be an attractive option for investors who are looking at long-term corporate bonds, which mature in 10 years or more. These bonds have a yield of roughly 3.6 per cent on average today compared with perpetuals in the range of 5 per cent.

You’d need about 6.6 per cent from a bond to give you the same after-tax yield as a perpetual preferred share. Multiply a dividend yield by 1.3 to get the rough equivalent from a bond after paying taxes, Mr. Hymas said.

The drawback with perpetuals is that they are highly sensitive to rising interest rates. Mr. Hymas sees five-year Government of Canada bonds eventually rising from current levels just above 1 per cent to the 3-per-cent to 3.5-per-cent range. If that happens, expect perpetuals to plunge in price. “It could be quite traumatic,” he said.

Much less of a concern is the security of the dividends paid by perpetuals. The dozen perpetuals highlighted by Mr. Hymas are all rated Pfd-2 by the rating agency DBRS, which means satisfactory credit quality. Pfd-1 is superior quality, while Pfd-5 is highly speculative.

Companies that issue perpetuals have an option to redeem the shares based on terms set out in the prospectus (you can find prospectuses on Sedar.com). While you shouldn’t buy these shares based on the potential for a future redemption at the $25 issue price, there are some perpetuals that might actually be in line for this at some point in the next several years.

Mr. Hymas believes that regulations covering the banking sector and its capital structure could, in the next few years, be applied to life insurance companies. Some preferred shares would then become disadvantageous for insurers and, in turn, be candidates for redemption in the years ahead. A redemption would turn a perpetual preferred share into a maturing investment similar to a bond.

Mr. Hymas said he likes three issues of insurance-company perpetuals with redemption potential: Sun Life Financial Series 5 (SLF.PR.E), Manulife Financial Series 3 (MFC.PR.C) and Great-West Lifeco Series I (GWO.PR.I). All have yields at or just below 5 per cent based on recent share prices and dividends. If the shares were redeemed in the next eight to 12 years at $25, that yield would work out to be a bit higher (the shares all currently trade below $25).

For argument regarding my belief “that regulations covering the banking sector and its capital structure could, in the next few years, be applied to life insurance companies”, see the posts DeemedRetractible Review: September, 2016 and OSFI Dovish on Insurance Tier 1 Eligibility Rule.

TransAlta cancels a planned preferred share swap because of investor push back

Friday, February 10th, 2017

Barry Critchley was kind enough to quote me in his piece TransAlta cancels a planned preferred share swap because of investor push back:

“It is a good day for shareholders. We don’t always do what the banks tell us to do,” said James Hymas, portfolio manager at Hymas Investment Management and the publisher of the PrefBlog. CIBC World Markets was TransAlta’s financial adviser while PWC provided a fairness opinion.

When TransAlta announced the plan in late December, Hymas said on the blog: “This is a rotten deal for the preferred shareholders, so rotten that we may call it a sleazy attempt by the company to pull the wool over the eyes of unsophisticated retail investors.”

Reached Friday, Hymas reiterated that it “was a bad deal. I suspect the early returns by shareholders combined with comments made to their investor relations department convinced them that it was not going to pass. Rather than be embarrassed, my guess is that they decided to cancel the deal.”

Hymas offered TransAlta, whose common share holders received a major dividend cut one year back, some advice: Get to work on improving the credit rating and spend less time on financial engineering. Last March DBRS changed the trends of all TransAlta’s long-term debt ratings – as well as on its preferred share ratings – to negative from stable.

There are also some amusing quotes from a portfolio manager who liked the deal so much, he’s willing to hide under his bed with the light turned off and say so anonymously:

The manager had little time for the view that holders were being “compromised” because they were not being offered full value, or $25 per share.

“That’s a fiction. They are perpetual securities and worth what they are worth. It’s not like a piece of debt where eventually they owe you the principal,” he added.

I hadn’t actually heard anybody say the holders were being compromised because they were not being offered full value. Perhaps the fact that all this guy has is a straw-man argument explains his anonymity..

This follows previous posts on this topic:

Affected issues are TA.PR.D, TA.PR.E, TA.PR.F, TA.PR.H and TA.PR.J.

TransAlta Corp takes to the airwaves to spread the advantages of its pref share consolidation

Friday, February 10th, 2017

This note is a little stale by now, but Barry Critchley was kind enough to quote me in his piece TransAlta Corp takes to the airwaves to spread the advantages of its pref share consolidation, published on January 24:

Some financial advisers, and at least one portfolio manager, argue the higher yield and better terms aren’t enough to make up for the potential capital loss investors are being asked to take.

James Hymas, portfolio manager at Hymas Investment Counsel said, “that’s the crux of the issue. The reduction in the effective redemption price (from $25), is an incredibly major change, an incredibly valuable feature to be given up, and TransAlta is not even close to matching that value on the income side.”

It was also interesting to read:

[TransAlta CFO Donald] Tremblay noted that the preferreds par value of $25 “is theoretical in the sense that prior to the announcement of the transaction these shares were trading at or below $0.50 on the dollar; Management would never have utilized the call option on the Preferred Shares,” he said.

This is disingenuous: it is remoteness of the potential call that makes the extant preferreds so valuable. Potential calls are always harmful to the investor!

This follows previous posts on this topic:

Affected issues are TA.PR.D, TA.PR.E, TA.PR.F, TA.PR.H and TA.PR.J.

TransAlta pref shareholders not happy with consolidation plan

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Barry Critchley was kind enough to quote me in his piece TransAlta pref shareholders not happy with consolidation plan:

Others disagree. For instance, James Hymas, a portfolio manager at Hymas Investment Counsel and the publisher of Prefblog, called it “an appalling, abusive offer. TransAlta’s extant preferred shares are trading well below their call price, which gives them a lot of room to make impressive capital gains should market conditions improve.” In Hymas’s view, the plan “effectively lowers the redemption price of the preferred shares outstanding, which will allow any such gains to be scooped up by the company instead of its preferred shareholders.”

This week, Hymas weighed in again. In an interview he said the “amount of extra income being offered is not just minimal but will disappear completely on reset with only a modest rise in government of Canada five year rates.” Accordingly if five year Canada bonds rise “significantly, the extant issues will pay more than the (proposed) new issue.”

Hymas also was critical of the process that will see those members of the soliciting group collect $0.13 per share per favorable vote — but nothing in the event the vote is unfavorable. The large difference in payments, “really makes me think they understand very well how cruddy their offer is.”

This follows previous posts on this topic:

Affected issues are TA.PR.D, TA.PR.E, TA.PR.F, TA.PR.H and TA.PR.J.

TransAlta plays the Grinch with its preferred share holders

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

Barry Critchley was kind enough to quote me in his article TransAlta plays the Grinch with its preferred share holders:

James Hymas, who runs Hymas Investment Management and who also publishes the PrefBlog, wrote “all of this analysis leads to the conclusion that this is a rotten deal for the preferred shareholders, so rotten that we may call it a sleazy attempt by the company to pull the wool over the eyes of unsophisticated retail investors. As the company admits, they look forward to reducing the corporation’s notional capital balance of preferred shares by approximately $300 million.”

After noting that an analysis based on implied volatility would require an even higher dividend than the 6.50 per cent TransAlta is offering, Hymas said the $300-million “is money that currently can potentially be earned by the current shareholders.”

That $300 million could occur with price increases on the extant issues; from an increase in the five-year government of Canada yield, or “from straightforward spread narrowing. The company is giving up nothing – NOTHING! – in order to capture this entire amount for themselves,” he wrote.

Assiduous Readers will remember that my views on the proposed Exchange (which will be voted on as a Plan of Arrangement) were published in the post TA Proposes Sleazy Exchange Offer.

Update, 2016-12-24 I was perplexed by a comment on Financial Wisdom Forum:

More on the TransAlta exchange.

http://business.financialpost.com/news/ … picks=true

FWIW, I am quite satisfied with the offer because I’m a trader and am more than happy to bail on these PF-3 issues because I really believe that one would have to be wearing super sized rose coloured glasses to think that they would someday trade or be redeemed at par, especially with a company like TA that has slashed the dividend on the common to 4 cents/quarter.

The case for the “No” vote does not depend on the hope that the shares will “someday trade or be redeemed at par”, and demonstrating this should actually make the argument more clear for those who have difficulty with the concept of Implied Volatility.

Let us examine the specific case of TA.PR.D; the following analysis framework may be applied to the other series with changes in numbers.

TA.PR.D:

  • pays $0.67725 p.a. until the next Exchange Date
  • will reset to GOC-5 + 203bp (paid on par value of $25) on each Exchange Date
    • This is equal to (25 * GOC-5) + (25 * 203bp)
    • which is equal to (25 * GOC-5) + $0.5075
  • may be redeemed at $25 on each Exchange Date
  • Exchange Dates are 2021-3-31 and every five years thereafter

The company proposes to exchange each share of this for 0.503 of a New Preferred Share; each New Preferred Share will

  • Pay 6.50% of $25.00 = 1.625 until the next Exchange Date
  • will reset to GOC-5 + 529bp (paid on par value of $25) on each Exchange Date
  • may be redeemed at $25 on each Exchange Date
  • Exchange Dates are 2021-12-31 and every five years thereafter

The fact that holders will be getting only 0.503 New Preferred Shares for each share of TA.PR.D makes the changes a little more complex for many investors, so as a thought experiment, let’s design a Notional Share which we will assume will be offered 1 for 1 for TA.PR.D, with the new holdings, in total, having exactly the same characteristics as the proposed new holdings of the New Preferred Shares.

A Notional Preferred Share:

  • pays $0.817375 until the next Exchange Date
  • will reset to 0.503 (GOC-5 + 529bp) * 25 on each Exchange Date
    • This is equal to (0.503 * 25 * GOC-5) + (0.503 * 25 * 529bp)
    • which is equal to 12.575 * GOC-5 + $0.6652175
    • subject to a minimum rate of $0.817375
  • may be redeemed at $12.575 on each Exchange Date
  • Exchange Dates are 2021-12-31 and every five years thereafter

So when we compare the currently held TA.PR.D to the Notional Share we see that:

  • The Notional Share will pay an extra $0.14 annually for each of the next five years (approximately), for a total of $0.70.
  • The redemption price will drop from $25 to $12.575
  • The dividends after the next Exchange Date (if it is left outstanding) will depend on the GOC-5 yield, as indicated on the following chart
taprd_notional_dividendsafterreset_rev1
Click for Big

The big problem, of course, is the change in redemption price – holders lose out on a lot of potential capital gains if the market improves, either through increases in the GOC-5 yield (which should increase the trading price of the preferreds) or through a narrowing of spreads (which may occur because the market improves, or TA’s credit improves, or both). In addition, we see that increases in the GOC-5 rate greatly improve the dividend payout from TA.PR.D and the much higher redemption price means these potential increases will not be called away unless for a gigantic premium over the current price.