BCE Preferreds in the News

Rob Carrick of the Globe & Mail has published an article on BCE Prefs in today’s paper, that has a few interesting snippets in it.


a recent report from Desjardins Securities urged people to write to BCE to request that the company’s preferred shares be redeemed at par value. “Our buyers, both individual and institutional, purchased these shares because of the company’s reputation, the comfort of a regulated utility, the safety of cash flow and suitable dividend coverage, good corporate governance, and recent favourable changes by the Minister of Finance to the dividend tax credit,” the report said.

A bit of a desperation move, but doubtless popular with their clients. I’m certainly not going to alter my views regarding the BCE prefs based on some chance of the company making an enormous goodwill payment to investors.

There was some interview with Douglas Berry, a portfolio manager with Three Macs in Montreal – unfortunately, Mr. Berry’s long term track record was not disclosed. HeĀ outlined some arguments favouring an investment in the BCE prefs, although his final judgement regarding the investment was also not disclosed. Arguments in favour are:

  • The (potential) new owners may redeem the shares.. Well, I won’t hold my breath! All I can really say is that three issuers with similar issues in the sub-investment-grade category have not found it advantageous to refinance: Quebecor (IQW.PR.D), Nortel (NTL.PR.F, NTL.PR.G) and Bombardier (BBD.PR.B, BBD.PR.D). The price of the financing is steep, to be sure, but the deeply subordinated nature of preferred share debt helps out the credit ratings of senior debt.
  • most of the shares are owned by banks, insurance companies and other institutions that are unhappy about how the price has fallen lately. I may be a little slow, but I fail to see how this is relevant. Even if these institutions are disingenuous enough to showboat with calls for redemption at par (as Desjardins is doing), who really cares what a pack of rinky-dink Canadian banks and two-bit Canadian insurance companies think anyway? Financing requirements for the deal are sufficently large and sufficiently junky that funds required will have to be raised in the States anyway.
  • the (potential) new owners have lots of money. Again, I fail to understand the relevance of this point. A BCE buy-out may or may not be a good deal. Give me three months, a staff of 20 and a few million dollars, and I’ll come back to you with a more definitive opinion on the value of the firm, but let’s just assume they buy it out. And then … the worst happens. After performing as expected for a few years, there’s a vicious recession, perhaps coupled with extreme technological change requiring huge capital investment just to remain a player … and BCE comes near bankruptcy. The (potential) new owners have no obligation to throw good money after bad. Like Telesat, like BCE Developments, like Air Canada, it will be … ‘So long! Been nice – but not all that nice!’.

The bottom line? I consider these issues to be more in the nature of “equity substitutes” than “fixed income”. Not only that, but there is zero information available on the structure of the firm going forward. How can there be, when there’s three bidders in the ring?

Update, 2007-6-28: In the commentary regarding all the money the (potential) new owners have, I referred to Telesat. Oops! I meant to refer to Teleglobe, a failed investment cut loose by BCE. Telesat actually did reasonably well.

3 Responses to “BCE Preferreds in the News”

  1. Drew says:

    Your problem, James, is misplaced expectations. Mr. Berry is talking his book. To expect sound reasoning from a promoter is misplaced. I’ve developed a rule of thumb that has served me well: whenever I read an interview with a fund manager (present company excepted, of course) I envision him or her wearing white shoes, and then I evaluate what is said.

  2. […] PrefBlog Canadian Preferred Shares – Data and Discussion « BCE Preferreds in the News […]

  3. […] I will be fascinated to learn more of the legal intricacies which make this a viable option for the purchasers! As it is, it looks like all my gloomy prognostications will turn out wrong. Although, mind you, the preferred shareholders don’t actually have cash money in their pockets yet – and there have been tears shed over similar offers. […]

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