MFC.PR.L : Convert or Hold?

It will be recalled that MFC.PR.L will reset At 3.78600% effective June 20, 2019.

MFC.PR.L is a FixedReset, 3.90%+216, that commenced trading 2014-2-25 after being announced 2014-2-18. The extension was announced 2019-5-7. As it is issued by an Insurance Holding Company and is not compliant with the banks’ NVCC rules, I have added a “Deemed Maturity” entry to the call schedule, which was adjusted in December 2018 to 2030-1-31, at 25.00. MFC.PR.L is tracked by HIMIPref™ and assigned to the FixedReset – Insurance Non-NVCC subindex.

The most logical way to analyze the question of whether or not to convert is through the theory of Preferred Pairs, for which a calculator is available. Briefly, a Strong Pair is defined as a pair of securities that can be interconverted in the future (e.g., MFC.PR.L and the FloatingReset that will exist if enough holders convert). Since they will be interconvertible on this future date, it may be assumed that they will be priced identically on this date (if they aren’t then holders will simply convert en masse to the higher-priced issue). And since they will be priced identically on a given date in the future, any current difference in price must be offset by expectations of an equal and opposite value of dividends to be received in the interim. And since the dividend rate on one element of the pair is both fixed and known, the implied average rate of the other, floating rate, instrument can be determined. Finally, we say, we may compare these average rates and take a view regarding the actual future course of that rate relative to the implied rate, which will provide us with guidance on which element of the pair is likely to outperform the other until the next interconversion date, at which time the process will be repeated.

We can show the break-even rates for each FixedReset / FloatingReset Strong Pair graphically by plotting the implied average 3-month bill rate against the next Exchange Date (which is the date to which the average will be calculated).

Click for Big

The market appears to have lost its fleeting interest in floating rate product, although it may be picking up again; the implied rates until the next interconversion are above the current 3-month bill rate as the averages for investment-grade and junk issues are at +1.27% and +1.29%, respectively. Whatever might be the result of the next few Bank of Canada overnight rate decisions, I suggest that it is unlikely that the average rate over the next five years will be lower than current – but if you disagree, of course, you may interpret the data any way you like.

Since credit quality of each element of the pair is equal to the other element, it should not make any difference whether the pair examined is investment-grade or junk, although we might expect greater variation of implied rates between junk issues on grounds of lower liquidity, and this is just what we see.

If we plug in the current bid price of the MFC.PR.L FixedReset, we may construct the following table showing consistent prices for its soon-may-be-issued FloatingReset counterpart given a variety of Implied Breakeven yields consistent with issues currently trading:

Estimate of FloatingReset (received in exchange for MFC.PR.L) Trading Price In Current Conditions
  Assumed FloatingReset
Price if Implied Bill
is equal to
FixedReset Bid Price Spread 2.00% 1.50% 1.00%
MFC.PR.L 17.15 216bp 17.52 17.03 16.53

Based on current market conditions, I suggest that the FloatingResets that will result from conversion are likely to trade close to the price of their FixedReset counterparts, MFC.PR.L. Therefore, I recommend that holders of MFC.PR.L determine whether or not to convert based on their own portfolio considerations and forecast for policy rates. I will note that once the FloatingResets commence trading (if, in fact, they do) it may be a good trade to swap one issue for the other in the market once both elements of each pair are trading and you can – hopefully – do it with a reasonably good take-out in price, rather than doing it through the company on a 1:1 basis. But that, of course, will depend on the prices at that time and your forecast for the path of policy rates over the next five years. There are no guarantees – my recommendation is based on the assumption that current market conditions with respect to the pairs will continue until the FloatingResets commence trading and that the relative pricing of the two new pairs will reflect these conditions.

Those who wish to convert are advised that the deadline for notifying the company of such a desire is 5:00 p.m. (Toronto time) on June 4, 2019. Brokers and other intermediaries generally set their internal deadlines a day or two in advance of this date, so if you wish to convert there’s no time to waste! Note that brokers will, in general, try to execute the instruction on a ‘best efforts’ basis if received between the two deadlines, provided that the procrastinating shareholder grovels entertainingly enough.

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