FixedReset Prospectuses Are Imprecise!

As we all know, FixedResets will reset their dividend every five years based on the Government of Canada Five Year yield (“GOC-5 rate” or “GOC-5 yield”) and therefore the prospectus for each issue needs to include information regarding exactly how that yield is determined.

The prospectus for ALA.PR.G (chosen because I can link to it!) contains typical language with respect to this process:

“Bloomberg Screen GCAN5YR Page” means the display designated as page “GCAN5YR” on the Bloomberg Financial L.P. service (or such other page as may replace the GCAN5YR page on that service) for purposes of displaying Government of Canada bond yields.

“Government of Canada Yield” on any date means the yield to maturity on such date (assuming semi-annual compounding) of a Canadian dollar denominated non-callable Government of Canada bond with a term to maturity of five years as quoted as of 10:00 a.m. (Toronto time) on such date and that appears on he Bloomberg Screen GCAN5YR Page on such date; provided that if such rate does not appear on the Bloomberg Screen GCAN5YR Page on such date, then the Government of Canada Yield shall mean the arithmetic average of the yields quoted to AltaGas by two registered Canadian investment dealers selected by AltaGas as being the annual yield to maturity on such date, compounded semi-annually, that a non-callable Government of Canada bond would carry if issued, in Canadian dollars, at 100% of its principal amount on such date with a term to maturity of five years.

I am not aware of any material differences in the definitions between prospectuses.

So this sounds pretty good, right? The GOC-5 yield will be calculated by an independent third party with no ambiguity and complete verifiability, right? Wrong.

As noted in the post Reset Calculation Oddity for 2019-9-30 / 2019-10-1, the following four issues had the GOC-5 rate underlying their dividends recalculated by their issuers on September 3:

Basis Comparison of Resets
Ticker Issue Reset Spread Announced Rate Implied GOC-5 Yield Screenshot
ALA.PR.G 306bp 4.242% 1.182% LINK
EFN.PR.E 472bp 5.903% 1.183% LINK
BAM.PF.F 286bp 4.029% 1.169% LINK
DC.PR.B 410bp 5.284% 1.184% LINK

The AltaGas screenshot shows they made a slight mistake: the time of the screenshot is 10:00:18, so they missed their proper time by 18 seconds, although they could argue that the prospectus only uses four significant figures and therefore their calculation is completely OK. However, each of the other screenshots shows a genuine effort being made to determine just what exactly the GOC-5 rate was at 10:00:00.00000 and each methodology resulted in a different answer.

Four companies, four identically specified calculations, four different answers.

I will be the first to agree that the variance is minor: the spread between the highest and lowest measurement is only 1.5bp and that’s not a lot. On a typical issue size of $250-million, that comes to $37,500 annually or $187,500 over the full five years. On a per-share basis, a 1.5bp yield difference comes to $0.00375 p.a., slightly less than two cents over the full five years.

But that’s not the point. First, the prospectus should specify the yield to be used in a completely precise manner. To quote again from the representative language of the ALA.PR.G prospectus:

“Annual Fixed Dividend Rate” means, for any Subsequent Fixed Rate Period, the annual rate of interest (expressed as a percentage rounded to the nearest one hundred thousandth of one percent (with 0.000005% being rounded up)) equal to the sum of the Government of Canada Yield on the applicable Fixed Rate Calculation Date and 3.06%.

What’s the point of being so horrifyingly precise about the rounding of the Annual Fixed Dividend Rate when the underlying figure is nowhere near that precisely measured?

In addition, once this becomes widely known, what’s to prevent a company from determining the GOC-5 yield in as many ways as their Bloomberg users can invent and choosing the lowest answer?

Clearly, the Bloomberg methodology is not adequate for the task of determining a precise, public, third-party figure and the procedure needs to be changed. The first alternative that leaps to mind is the Bank of Canada’s bond yield reporting:

Selected benchmark bond yields are based on mid-market closing yields of selected Government of Canada bond issues that mature approximately in the indicated terms. The bond issues used are not necessarily the ones with the remaining time to maturity that is the closest to the indicated term and may differ from other sources. The selected 2-, 5-, 10-, or 30-year issues are generally changed when a building benchmark bond is adopted by financial markets as a benchmark, typically after the last auction for that bond.

Yes, it’s not quite the same thing and yes, there might be a perceived problem if the benchmark changes near the time of calculation (typically, new benchmarks will trade to yield less than the ‘off the run’ issues they supersede). I don’t care. I want something precise, public (certainly more public than a subscription to a Bloomberg terminal!) and prepared by an independent third party. If somebody has a better idea, let’s hear it.

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