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DIGICEL: EM BONDS – TIME TO BUY?

Denis O’Brien, Ireland’s richest native ($4.3bln) is the 94% owner of Digicel Group. Digicel Group offers telecommunications (wireless, cable, and business services) media and entertainment services to 14 million subscribers in 32 markets, primarily in the Caribbean and Central America. Largest markets; Haiti (16% revenues), Jamaica (16%), Papua New Guinea (13%), Trinidad & Tobago (6%).

Digicel bonds have been the worst performing emerging market bonds of 2018, losing 30% of their value year-to-date.

Macroeconomic/FX Risks:

The strengthening US dollar had been a big factor and analysts expect the effect to be ongoing, lessening top line revenues by as much as $220mm and EBITDAR by approx. $100mm per annum. A full 95% of Digicel’s debt is US dollar denominated whereas 50% of revenues are either USD or from markets where the currency is pegged to the US dollar.

Bond information:

DLLTD 8.25% 9/30/2020 RegS. Issue size; $2bln. Maturity 9/30/2020 (2.05 years) sub 2 year duration. Net leverage 7.0x (up from 6.4x prior year). Recent price $69.76, current yield 11.83%, yield to maturity 39.33%. Fitch downgrade 8/24/2020 to B-, neg. outlook. It remains to be seen what the bond market reaction will be to Fitch’s downgrade of Friday past, but I suspect it will be muted. Bond CUSIP USG27631AD56.

Digicel Group Limited (DGL) debt, of which there is $3bln total outstanding is structurally subordinate to $3.7bln of debt held in 2 other Digicel entities, 2.3bln in senior unsecured Digicel Limited debt and $1.4bln in senior unsecured terms loans/revolver at DIFL (Digicel International Finance Limited).

Potential sources of refinancing:

The market is anxiously awaiting the game plan from Mr. O’Brien on the refinancing of the DLLTD 8.25%’s of 2020. The fact that the market is trading at the current level of distress (i.e. sub $70.00) may offer opportunities for restructuring Digicel. Given the large issue size of $2bln, a successful tender for the bonds at $80.00 could save Digicel $400mm. XTract Research recently released a report eluding to this possibility, but as I understand it no price indication has been proposed. One potential value catalyst noted in the XTract report (I have only seen an exerpt) is rolling in the assets of the currently unencumbered Digicel Pacific Limited entity.

-It is possible that $1.2-1.3bln of additional secured debt could be raised related Digicel entities.

-Denis O’Brien has eluded to the possibility of an equity infusion in the past. When Digicel was “rolling in clover” as they say, Mr. O’Brien took out $1.1bln in dividends from Digicel, the bulk ($950mm) in the form of a special dividend. This action (an equity infusion) would be in keeping with O’Brien’s plans to eventually IPO Digicel. Denis last attempted the IPO route in 3Q 2015, but it is doubtful he will try again before 2H2019 when leverage can be brought down to a more manageable level of 5.7x. Fitch and the other rating agencies note there is a lot to like in the competitive positioning of Digicel which operates largely in duopoly markets boasting a market share of 50% in many (not to mention 40% margins). What the rating agencies are more concerned with is the liquidity situation of the group with $158mm in cash/near cash versus an annual interest expense of $456mm, approaching 50% of EBITDA (Note: IF Digicel were a US company their interest expense would only be partially tax deductible as the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act caps/limits the tax deductibility of interest to 30% of EBITDA).

-Asset sales. Digicel recently effected a sale/lease back on their cell phone towers which helps at the margin, but with net proceeds < $100mm the effect is minimal in the grand scheme of things. Beyond the 450 towers covered by the sale/leaseback details have been scant of the other $400mm O’Brien has eluded to (i.e. $500mm total asset sale program).Perhaps more important is getting capex back to 14-15% of FCF from the recent highs of 21% due to heady network investments.

-Cost cutting. No further meaningful cuts are achievable as 25% of the group work force was retrenched in 2017.

Value comps: EV/EBITDA; C&W (bought Liberty) 11.2x, Columbia (bought) 9.6x, AT&T (T) 8.5x, American Mogul (AMX) 5.3x, Telefonica (TEF) 5.4x, T-Mobile (TMUS) 6.2x, Orange (ORAN) 5.6x = avg. 7.4X.

Conclusion:

The DLLTD 8.25%’s 2020 have traded as low as $62.90 in 2018. The minimum lot size for the bond issue profiled is $200k (par value), hence if one were to buy the bond at $70.00, the initial investment would be $140,000 (plus accrued interest of almost $7k), qualifying as a substantial investment for an account sized at $5mm (i.e. 3% of invested capital). Too much single name risk for me, $100k par value is more typical. JP Morgan’s EM bond ETF, ticker EMB would offer similar exposure for individual investors with more modest account size. The ETF has $13.6bln in AUM with a dividend yield of 4.62% and a ytd -5.13% return in 2018.

Digicel (B2, neg. outlook). A total return >35% is attractive, especially when compared with the paltry 7.7% yield on longer duration single B3, neg. outlook credits like TESLA (i.e. TSLA 5.3% August 2025 bonds last traded at $87.20 to yield 7.7%) which carry much higher interest rate risk (TSLA’s 5.8 year duration versus sub 2.0 year for Digicel). Tesla’s current EBITDA is -326.2mm (analysts estimate $3.2bln in EBITDA for 2019) hence a potential double headwind of EV subsidy cessation and loss of interest deductibility. Shorting TSLA is too expensive and foolhardy, but you don’t have to own it for certain.

Follow me on twitter @firehorsecaper

Safe trading. JCG

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PUTIN’S LONG ARM – CORE VENEZUELA ENERGY ASSETS UNDER RUSSIAN CONTROL

While much of the US populace navel gaze over “he said, he said”, rear view mirror stuff with the 2016 US Presidential appointments/elections, real world carnage is taking place, in real time. Venezuela’s communist government slinky has run out of gravity and steps, falling at the feet of mother Russia. Venezuela has defaulted on $60bln of debt, officially termed “selective default” at present by the rating agencies. Russia is not sure what all the noise is about as their bi-lateral payments have been made on a full and timely basis? Ditto for China.

Caracas is 3,317 miles from Washington, versus the 4,861 miles from Moscow to Washington, DC (and much closer to key US energy assets in the Gulf of Mexico). Beijing is 11,158 miles fromWashington, for reference. Russia/China having strategic energy assets so close to the US should be a point of concern both for the current administration and for the bigger US GOM refiners. Billions of US dollars are flowing into Venezuela from Russia and China, along with a brain trust of skilled workers numbering in the thousands to ensure both execution and return bogeys are met. Russian war ships are on the way to Venezuela as we speak, a strong sign of Russia’s support for the struggling communist nation and the “financial aid” Russia has extended. Putin must have a good giggle daily at having a South American domiciled Ukraine-like foothold without an argument, let alone a public conflict with the US (for now). Back in August, Trump stated publicly that he could not rule out a military option with respect to dealing with the struggling South American nation.

Venezuela has a population of 31.6 million, about 15% less than Canada’s. Venezuela boast the largest conventional oil reserves and the second largest natural gas reserves in the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela’s non-conventional deposits are approximately equivalent to the world’s reserves of conventional oil. The majority of Venezuela’s domestic energy needs are met with hydroelectric power.

Bahrain has requested assistance from neighboring Saudi Arabia and UAE. Saudi Arabia has taken a page out of Brazil’s playbook with “Car Wash 2.0” anti-corruption crackdown. Zimbabwe overnight has seen a coup. Fun times to have the VIX in the low teems (12.6, up 9%). Sovereign EM is not the only story here as EM corporates are the ones with the more heady issuance of late, US$8bln a week at the  most recently clip. IG EM US$ bonds returns have been stellar thus far in calendar 2017 with 5 nations clocking > 10% returns year to date; Uruguay, Panama, Peru, Mexico and Kazakhstan. So much room to fall from here. Not a sky is falling comment, buy many assets are priced for perfection when we have blemished prospects for continued/further levity.

Back to Venezuela, recovery rates are very hard to handicap in EM credit, especially when the key assets that would result is some recovery have been sold to Russia and China respectively. VENZ, sovereign rating “D” standing for default,  (bond ticker, Benz with a V) 7% 1 December 2018 sold off 40% to trade $32/$35, (seems high given scant recovery prospects). Plenty of info in the popular press on the “deals” that have been struck between Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Russia’s Rosneft in the run up to Maduro’s most recent restructuring  announcement.

The pace of EM bond issuance will be greatly curtailed, if not ceased near term. The US$ EM bond craze we have seen evident since the GFC has seen US$3 trillion of new debt issued. Little wonder high yield ETF’s have taken a knee in recent sessions, the dry heaves are coming. Calpers most recent tactical asset allocation back into bonds from DM equity will not be soon enough or far enough down the ratings spectrum to provide an air bag for the coming head on collision.

Venezuela, for their part, have been very critical of the rating agencies, “”In the last 36 months, Venezuela has canceled, for the concept of Reimbursed Capital and Paid Interest, the amount of $ 73, 359 billion, an immediate consequence of each payment and each compliance has been the increase of country risk by rating agencies risk, which have been deeply inefficient to prevent scandalous financial setbacks in financial power centers in the United States, Europe, and Asia, but which are used as an instrument of devious action against our country: the more we have paid, even though we have always been timely in honoring our payments, risk rating agencies, following the pattern of financial blockade undertaken by the Trump Administration, makes it expensive with reports devoid of any form of rigor and veracity, the cost of our debt and intervene to hinder Venezuela in its condition of good payer and solvent country, access to external financing, common and frequent for almost all countries of the world”

Only 2 non muslims nations are included in Trump’s most recent travel ban. North Korea and Venezuela. Good luck getting plug nickel out of Venezuela near term if you are a US$ bond holder. Dalio’s call on gold, increasing his weighting significantly, seems precinct. A number of geopolitical fuses have been lit, we just don’t know which one goes boom first.

Credit wider, bond steady / curve to stabilize, equity vol to spike, global equities softer, gold firmer.

Follow me on twitter @firehorsecaper

Don’t forget, cash is an option from an asset allocation perspective.

JCG

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EMERGING MARKETS – EQUAL WEIGHT IS 32%

I had the pleasure of hearing Singapore based Mark Mobius, Ph. D. (Economics, MIT) Executive Chairman, Templeton Emerging Markets Group keynote speech at the Asia PE-VC Summit 2016 held 30 September 2016, run by Deal Street Asia / mint asia.

http://www.dealstreetasia.com/stories/mark-mobius-54493/

Dr. Mobius was born August 17, 1936 (six years younger than Warren Buffett, born August 30, 1930). Nobody can rock a baby blue two piece suit and white shoes better than Mobius. Style and substance are rarely brought together in such a seamless fashion. At 80 year young, he is beyond sharper than a tack and offered a great deal of insight to a crowd, on average 45 year his junior.

Templeton has $28bln invested in 70 global EM markets at present, sprouting from a kernel of $100 million circa 1987. In South East Asia, the focus has been on PIPE deals (Private Investment in Public Equity). EM is up 1848% over the 1987-2016 period.

What keeps Mark up at night, other than travails of being 80, can best be summarized as the three i’s;

1.) Interest rates – Global Central Banks are the classic non profit maximizing counterparty and Mobius thinks they are destined to “make a mess” of it. Negative interest rates are far from a rational state. In terms of rational equity valuation, almost any p/e multiple can be justified in an environment of negative rates, 100 OK, 200 sure. Mark questions the mentality of said central bankers, overly influenced by academia,  economist and other charlatans (my term). Specifically called out was Ken Rogoff’s “Curse of Cash” as poppycock.

2.) Isolationism – Both with respect to trade and investments. A damaging trend. Little comment required on this point. Mobius grew up in Boston, Mass. but long ago relinquished his US passport and holds a German passport (his father was German and his mother was Puerto Rican) and a Singapore tax domicile.

3.) Internet – On-going game changer, especially in EM. Largely a mobile phenomenon.

China, still a monster growth story. It is all about the absolute numbers. Growth is slowing, but the absolute numbers are bigger every year (10% growth in 2010 is smaller than 7% in 2015 given the absolute size of the economy).

Biggest take away:

The people you are dealing with is the most important factor in investing, over the long haul. Having  a legal agreement is of course required, and governing law important, but typically if it gets to the stage of lawyers and the courts, the result is a big zero for all involved. Word to the wise, word to the wise indeed.

My current public market favorite instrument for EM exposure is WisdomTree’s Emerging Market High Dividend ETF, DEM, yielding 4.15%, ytd 2016 performnance +20%, AUM $1.6bln. No home country bias, as a global citizen. JCG

Follow me on twitter; Caleb Gibbons @firehorsecaper

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ARGENTINA – EM BOND PARTY TIME?

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Latin American issuer Argentina (B- rated as of last week) returned to the bond market with great fanfare, raising $16.5bln across four maturities, making it the largest ever EM bond issue. There were over $68bln in orders for the debt issue which allowed the 10 year (largest) tranche to price a full 50bp (0.50%) tighter than initial price talk. The bond rallied in the gray market, with the $6.5bln of 10’s trading up $1.60-$2.10 in price terms in late Tuesday trade.

Argentina was rewarded for being market-friendly (legacy default on $95bln of debt in 2001 aside) and having a pragmatic administration at the helm. 15 years “in the box” was deemed to be enough by the market and the recent uptick in emerging market sentiment was pushed to full advantage.

Over 60% of bond proceeds ($10bln) are earmarked for hedge funds and other investors, led by billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, who recently won a protracted court case against Argentina with respect to defaulted Argentinian debt. 15 years is a long time to wait for a 10 bagger. Thirty years is also a long time to hold a B3/B- sovereign credit with a 8% coupon. JCG

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