Archive for the ‘Press Clippings’ Category

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
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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.

This borrowing-to-invest strategy is no slam dunk

Friday, May 27th, 2016

John Heinzl was kind enough to quote me in his piece This borrowing-to-invest strategy is no slam dunk, which discusses a couple’s proposal to take out a home-equity loan and invest the proceeds in ZPR, the BMO Laddered Preferred Share Index ETF:

If you look up ZPR’s distribution history, however, you’ll see that the monthly payout has been dropping. At the start of 2014 it was 5.3 cents, a year later it was 4.8 cents and currently it’s 4.5 cents. The reason: ZPR holds a basket of rate-reset preferred shares, many of which have cut their dividends because of a steep drop in the five-year Government of Canada bond yield that is used to set the dividends on these shares.

Barring a rebound in bond yields, ZPR’s distribution could fall even further as more rate-reset preferred shares cut their dividends, says James Hymas, president of Hymas Investment Management. Assuming the five-year Canada yield remains at its current level of about 0.8 per cent, the “implied current yield” of ZPR’s underlying portfolio is just 4.74 per cent, according to a BMO document dated April 29. After deducting the ETF’s management expense ratio of 0.5 per cent, ZPR’s net implied yield to investors is about 4.24 per cent, Mr. Hymas says.

That’s not nearly as attractive as the 5.6-per-cent yield for ZPR advertised on BMO’s website.

The document mentioned in the article is available here … for now! Hat tip to MikeFreedom49? on the Financial Wisdom Forum for bringing this document to my attention.

This is probably a good place to make two other points.

First, the document states that the duration of ZPR is 3.11 years, with a footnote indicating that:

Duration is a measure of sensitivity to changes in interest rates. For example, a 5 year duration means the value will decrease by 5% if interest rates rise 1% and increase in value by 5% if interest rates fall 1%. Generally, the higher the duration the more volatile the price will be when interest rates change.

This assertion of a 3.11 year duration without any qualifiers is irresponsible, reckless and wrong. Such an answer in the current environment can only be derived by pegging the price on the next reset date at an arbitrary level – it could be the current price, it could be $25.00, it could be anything you like, as long as it’s presumed to be a value unaffected by market yields. These are perpetual instruments trading below par; their duration in the current environment is better in the 20 to 25 year range (with respect to spreads) … or it could even be negative (if we assume yield-to-perpetuity will be constant in the face of a changing 5-year Canada rate)! . Holders of ZPR – and other FixedResets – over the past two years will doubtless be happy to confirm that the price volatility they have experienced far exceeds what they might have expected from an investment with a 3.11 year duration.

Classical bond mathematics is a very useful tool for examining preferred shares, but must be accompanied by a very cautious and explicit statement of assumptions and these assumptions should be disclosed.

Secondly, I note that BMO touts the fund as being “Low to Medium Risk”, which I feel confident will be considered laughable by those who have suffered through the woes of the preferred share market for the past two years.

The whole concept of these risk assessments, with their mandatory reporting on the “Fund Facts” statements is under constant attack by those with even a smidgen of knowledge about risk (which leaves out the regulators), so I won’t go into this further except to say I’d love to see how they justify their claim!

Finally, here’s a chart of expected changes in the dividends of Fixed Resets for which the YTW scenario is perpetuity, taken from the May, 2016, edition of PrefLetter:

PL_160520_App_FR_Chart_30
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The not-so-pleasant choices faced by RONA’s preferred shareholders [RON.PR.A]

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Barry Critchley was kind enough to quote me in his piece titled The not-so-pleasant choices faced by RONA’s preferred shareholders. First he gives some space to an argument I don’t understand:

According to some holders, agreeing to that low price would set a bad precedent given that there are a slew of rate-reset prefs which are trading at a substantial discount to their purchase price. If one issuer gets away with such a deal, others will follow suit.

Accordingly, it is not in the interests of pref share holders, who put up $25 when the issue came to market in the expectation they would get $25 of value when the time rolled around for the rates to be reset, to encourage such behaviour. So Lowe’s bid $20 – which represented a premium to the recent trading price but a total acquisition savings of $34.5 million – knowing that if it’s rejected it will be required to remain a reporting issuer.

I don’t get it. It’s a vote. You can vote yes or you can vote no. One likes to imagine that good proposals will succeed and bad proposals will fail. The above argument is equivalent to saying that you have to vote Conservative in the Federal election, because if you vote Liberal this time you’ll have to vote Liberal every time. It makes no sense.

But after that, it’s my turn:

James Hymas, of Hymas Investment Management, has a different take, arguing RONA pref shareholders could tender and redeploy the proceeds in other rate reset prefs that generate about the same cash flow.

Hymas, who does not own RONA preferreds either personally or through the funds he manages, argues that if the $20 a share offer is turned down, the price of the RONA prefs will fall below $20. In other words: make the trade.

For more detail regarding my views, see RON.PR.A Vote: Yes or No?.

Mr. Critchley also commented on the Stirling Funds joke:

Numerous attempts have been made to reach Stirling and its Swedish-based advisor ÖstVäst Advisory to find out its next steps. The first call elicited the response that it had received numerous responses from holders. Since then nothing.

He also pointed out one little nugget of information:

But there may be another twist given that as of the end of 2015, Fidelity Investments owned more than 10 per cent of the issue — more than three times what it owned at the end of the first quarter of 2015. We couldn’t reach Fidelity for a comment.

Well done Fidelity! That’s a trade that has worked out very nicely indeed!

Lowly preferred shares an intriguing bet for the brave investor

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Rob Carrick was kind enough to quote me in his recent article Lowly preferred shares an intriguing bet for the brave investor:

For some ideas on finding value in the preferred share market, let’s check in with two money managers. One is James Hymas, president of Hymas Investment Management, and the other is Dustin Van Der Hout, a portfolio manager with Richardson GMP. Both suggest investors look to the hardest-hit part of the pref market, rate resets.

Mr. Hymas’s quick and easy option for capturing a rebound in rate resets is the BMO Laddered Preferred Share Index ETF (ZPR), which has fallen almost 43 per cent over the past three years on a cumulative basis and now yields a bit over 6 per cent.

Alternative choices are the iShares S&P/TSX Canadian Preferred Share Index ETF (CPD) and the PowerShares Canadian Preferred Share Index ETF (PPS), which track an index that is dominated by rate resets but also includes other preferred types. “These ETFs are a very good alternative for somebody who does not have enough time to do a lot of research,” Mr. Hymas said.

For investors seeking individual shares, Mr. Hymas highlighted three particular preferred share issues from insurers. Each traded in the $12 to $13 range at midweek, down from their issue price of $25, and each is down for similar reasons. They have either had their dividend reset recently at levels that are much below what they were when the shares were issued, or they will in the not-too-distance future.

Why buy those hard-hit shares from Manulife, or similar issues from Sun Life Financial and Great-West Lifeco?

Mr. Hymas said there’s potential for regulators to change the rules for insurance companies so that it’s less attractive for them to issue preferred shares. If that happens, these shares could be redeemed at $25, which is close to double their current share price. “I can give you chapter and verse on why I think this rule change is going to happen,” he said. “Basically, the market is essentially ignoring the possibility.”

Warning: Mr. Hymas said the price of these shares is heavily influenced by the five-year Canada bond yield. If it goes up, that’s helpful. If bond yields fall further, then there will be more downside for these already hard-hit shares.

Here’s what they came up with based on a mix of dividend yield and the potential to be redeemed at a future date at the issue price of $25.

Share Issue & Ticker Recent Price ($) Curr. Yield (%)* Next Reset Dividend Reset formula is the 5-yr Canada bond yield plus this premium (% points) Yield based on current share price and projected dividend reset using a recent 5-yr Canada bond yield (%)
James Hymas, president of Hymas Investment Management
Great-West Lifeco Series N GWO.PR.N-T 12.82 4.4 Dec. 2020 1.3 3.5
Manulife Financial Series 3 MFC.PR.F-T 12.22 8.4 Jun. 2016 1.41 3.9
Sun Life Financial Series 8R SLF.PR.G-T 13 4.4 Jun. 2020 1.41 3.7
equity_prefs
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