Tater’s Takes – BP, RIM, and TFSAs

June 25th, 2010 by Potato

Diet was terrible again this week, and I felt pretty ill and headachy on a few days — the humidity outside seemed to put me right on my ass, just couldn’t breathe out there. Nonetheless, I did get two good long bike rides in for the week, and feel pretty good about that. I gained weight though, which is bad bad bad, so I’ll have to get better about the diet next week!

I ballparked the magnitude of the oil spill at about 50k barrels per day a while ago, choosing to believe the image analysis guys (and taking something of the midpoint of their estimates). The media kept reporting smaller numbers (and early on the reported estimates were, to my eyeballing and logic, way low). Last week though I started hearing 60k barrels per day as a new estimate in the news, and cost estimates above my $50B started appearing. I thought after my first post on the matter that I might have been pessimistic assuming the well gets capped in early August. Now I’m wondering if I might have been too optimistic! The stock is already well below my “attractive” price…

Of course, it’s hard to take the plunge on BP when some of my other calls have gone so badly. RIM released results today which looked ok to me (and to TD’s analyst), but the stock was hammered by the market, down over 10% today (and down almost 20% from where I bought it). It’s trading at about a 12X P/E now — the territory of stodgy retailers and banks, not low-debt, growing tech stars like RIM! I just can’t wrap my head around why the market isn’t more positive on RIM — their slice of the pie is undeniably getting smaller thanks to Apple and Google, but the smartphone pie keeps getting bigger (heck, now even I have a crackberry). Their EPS is growing, and should continue to grow for years to come. I think what they need to do is start issuing a dividend, since it doesn’t look like they need all the cash they’re generating for growth anymore.

I own some Freddie Mac (preferreds), even though at the time I bought it, I figured the odds were good that political risk would sink it. Yet I couldn’t resist a little nibble since if the government managed not to kill it, the payoff would be huge. So it’s only a very small portion of my portfolio. It now looks like political risk is indeed rearing its ugly head, as the government overseer has announced that FRE will be delisted from the NYSE. This is a strange move since on such a huge company, the listing fees can’t really save them all that much, and Freddie wasn’t at risk of being delisted anyway (just the opposite, Russell was about to add them back to the Russell 2000 index). Internet chatboard speculation is that this is the first step to the government canceling the private ownership of the GSEs. I can’t really refute that, since the government has definitely taken a different stance on the bailout of the GSEs than of the banks. The bailout money for Freddie comes with a 10% interest rate attached, which is rather punitive to begin with (AFAIK, the naughty banks that more directly helped cause the credit crisis woes got interest-free loans, or money for common equity). The government is also making them keep cash reserves on hand, and reserve loan losses in advance — which costs them 10% — which is ludicrous in my view, since the idea of capital reserves goes out the window once you’re already under government conservatorship.

One scenario I’ve held out hope for is rather than waiting for the company to turn around and conservatorship to end, for the government to tender for the preferreds at a discount. While they are not currently paying dividends on the junior preferreds, in theory that capital costs them ~5%. The government could have Freddie offer to buy back the preferreds at say 25 cents on the dollar, and even at the 10% rate that they’re charging Freddie, it would still end up being a cheaper source of capital for them (and a massive return for speculators like me who bought the preferreds at something closer to 5 cents on the dollar — today they’re closer to 1 cent on the dollar).

If you do decide to take a gamble on Freddie Mac, please do read John Hempton of Bronte Capital’s (long) series of blog posts explaining why he thinks they can be worth something down the road if given the chance to recover (I just bobbed my head and hummed along to his analysis). And note that the political risk means that the most likely scenario is that these things go to zero. They’re basically lottery tickets, so don’t spend more on them than you would at the casino or other gamble — it’s not a sound investment for your retirement!

Finally, on the indexed side of my portfolio (which I don’t talk about too much since it’s purposefully boring — remember, boring is often good in investing!) I saw that the Euro has gone down relative to the Canadian dollar recently (~10%). For my international portion of my indexed portfolio I originally chose the “currency neutral” version of TD’s e-series fund, not really knowing the differences or hidden costs of hedging. Fortunately, that has worked out for me, as that currency hedge helped prevent the international fund from going down quite as much. I’ve taken advantage of that and switched over to the plain C$ version.

On the TFSA SNAFU, Ottawa has decided to be lenient, and all the people who couldn’t figure out this relatively simple tax-shelter will be given leniency for over-contributions in 2009. You still have to respond to your letter from the CRA though, it’s not automatic! The deadline for responding though has been pushed back to August.

Comments are closed.