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What Happened to the Preferred Shares Market?

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The stock market suffered a big market drop in the Fall / early Winter, but has since had a substantial recovery. Bonds posted solid returns this past year. Preferred shares have had a very different experience. They declined last year, had a modest recovery and have sold off again in the past few months, leaving many preferred share investors wondering what has happened to the preferred share market and will it ever recover.

The Past Year

Preferred share returns have been anything but preferred over the past few years. In the past 12 months to May 31, the BMO 50 Preferred Share Index has declined by nearly 13.5% on a total return basis (including dividends received), with Fixed Rate Resets down 15%, Floating Rate Preferreds down an incredible 27% and only Perpetuals providing a positive return of 4.3% (price only return is still -1.3% for the past twelve months). On a five year basis, preferred share returns, including dividends have been essentially flat, but on price alone basis, preferred share prices have dropped nearly 23%. Fixed Reset preferred shares have seen their prices drop by over 30% in that same period.[i] Weren’t these investments supposed to be safer than stocks? Does it make sense to still hold them and when can investors expect a positive return?

Preferred Share Structure

Preferred shares are considered to be a hybrid security as they pay a fixed coupon payment (although sometimes the coupon payment is reset at specific intervals) similar to bonds. They also rank between bonds and equity in terms of security, i.e. a preferred shareholder is paid out after the bondholders, but before equity holders and preferred shares offer daily liquidity as they trade on the stock exchange (TSX). For these reasons, they were considered safer and less volatile than equity, but not as safe as bonds.

For many years, preferred shares were an income focused investment that either paid a consistent dividend amount (perpetuals) or the dividend amount changed with short-term interest rates (floating rate). These preferred shares offered a higher yield than equivalent bonds, but the yield premium today is substantially more than it has been historically. Many perpetual preferred shares are paying yields of 5.5%, a 3.8% premium over 30 year Government of Canada bonds that yield only 1.7%.

Things changed dramatically in the preferred share space when fixed reset preferred shares entered the market. Fixed rate reset preferred shares, which pay a fixed dividend rate for 5 years from date of issue are structured in the issuer’s favour. On the 5 year anniversary date, the dividend rate is reset based on the yield of the 5 year Government of Canada bond plus a specific premium yield that was set out at inception. But, if yields have gone up or if the issuer can finance at a cheaper rate, the preferred share can be called at par value.

The rate reset preferred shares became very popular with investors following the 2008 financial crisis, as they were looking for shorter-dated, higher yielding hybrid securities. Fixed resets now comprise approximately 75% of the entire preferred share market.

Many investors thought in 2008 – 2010 that they were buying a 5 year fixed rate preferred share, either not understanding or caring about the rate reset structure. In many cases, these preferred shares may have been mis-sold as 5 year fixed investments without contemplation of the risk that the dividend rate could be reset lower (reset risk) on the anniversary date.

In late 2014-2015 when oil prices cratered, Alberta went into recession and the Bank of Canada cut interest rates, many rate reset preferred shares dropped substantially in price. For example, a preferred share with a 5% yield, but with a rate reset formula of 5 Year Government of Canada plus 2%, saw the new dividend rate drop to 3% or less as 5 year government of Canada bond yields slipped below 1%. Prices on some rate reset preferred shares dropped over 30% within a year. While prices of rate reset preferred shares did go up when the economy started to improve and bond yields started to climb, the sheen had come off rate reset preferred shares.

This Last Year

There have been a few causes for the drop-off in preferred shares over the past year, but the drop has likely been too far and too fast, making many preferred share bargains, offering fairly high yields and the potential for price appreciation (see chart). The causes for the drop are below.

Bond Yields: The biggest investment change over the past year has been the shift in sentiment about interest rates. Early in 2018, the question was how many more times rates would rise and the yield curve reflected this. For example, 5 Year Government of Canada bonds were yielding 2.1% one year ago, but only about 1.35% presently. The yield curve has inverted for much of 2019. This is a scenario when longer-term interest rates are lower than short-term rates. The inverted yield curve often indicates that rate cuts are expected in the short-term and that the economy is slowing. Yet in this environment, stocks have gone up, bonds have gone up, while preferred shares have sold off dramatically.

As investors are supposed to be forward-looking, many have demanded higher current yields for their preferred shares, particularly rate resets, to offset the potential risk that the dividend rate will be reset lower. In many cases, the price drop has been overdone. Enbridge preferred share series D (ENB.PR.D) has seen its share price drop by over 20% in the past year. Yet, its dividend will not be reset for nearly 4 years and is currently paying a yield of 7.2%, nearly 6% higher than the 5 year Government of Canada bonds.

Index Funds: ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) offer many advantages to investors, such as low cost, liquidity and diversification, but many investors assume that the underlying investments within the ETF are just as liquid as the ETF itself. In the case of preferred shares, this belief is wrong. Preferred shares are often smaller issues of $200 million or less and since many investors have a buy and hold mentality, they do not necessarily trade much. When preferred share ETFs experience sell-offs, the underlying preferred shares have to be sold down, regardless of price. This can make a small decline in the market much more substantial.

Investors Fleeing the Asset Class (Once Bitten, Twice Shy): Many investors who lost money in 2015 on preferred shares have decided to sell their remaining preferred shares or to simply avoid the asset class, by allocating their money to stocks and bonds instead. The last time preferred shares experienced this huge sell-off, institutional investors, like pension funds, began to buy into the market. So far, these investors have not yet returned to this asset class, but at some point low prices and high yields should attract greater interest.

Are Preferred Shares Worth Buying Today?

In general, I think the answer is yes, but some areas offer more compelling value.

Perpetual preferred shares – As mentioned previously, these preferred shares pay the same rate in perpetuity with no risk of the rate being reset. The vast majority of issuers are high quality, investment grade companies, such as the Banks, Life Insurance companies, and Utilities. While their sell-off has been much less than other parts of the market, their prices typically go up when bond yields are dropping, as the consistent high dividend rate should be of greater value to income investors in a low rate environment. For example, as 30 year bond rates have dropped over 0.5% in the past year, long-dated fixed income investments should have experienced price increases of over 10% based on financial math.

As a result, many of these perpetual preferred shares are offering dividend yields of well over 5%, a premium of over 3.5% vs. government bonds. Considering that many investors who are in or near retirement need income from their investments and are targeting return rates of 4% – 6% in their financial plans, shouldn’t an investment that pays consistent, tax-advantaged dividends at a rate of between 5%-6% be in high demand? Yes. They should. For long-term income investors, these preferred shares offer yields high enough to meet their spending needs and an opportunity for capital appreciation.

Deep Discount Rate Reset Preferred Shares. The rate reset market, which has caused most of the problem, also offers great opportunities. Currently, there are many rate reset preferred shares offering yields of 6.5% or more, are likely 3 or more years away from being reset and are likely to be reset at similar or higher rates, so you are getting more than fairly paid for the interest rate risk.

Selected Opportunities in Perpetual Preferred Shares

ISSUER Current Yield [ii] Premium over Bonds [iii]
WN.PR.D (George Weston) 5.5% 3.8%
BAM.PR.N (Brookfield Asset Management) 6.0% 4.3%
ELF.PR.F (E-L Financial) 5.5% 3.8%
IFC.PR.F (Intact Financial) 5.5% 3.8%
SLF.PR.D (SunLife) 5.5% 3.8%

 

Selected Opportunities in Rate Reset Preferred Shares

ISSUER Current Yield Premium Over Bonds [iv] Reset Date Projected Reset Rate [v]
BPO.PR.T (Brookfield Properties) 7.6% 6.3% Dec. 2023 6.3%
ENB.PR.D (Enbridge) 7.3% 6.0% March 2023 6.0%
FFH.PR.E (Fairfax Financial) 5.4% 4.1% March 2020 6.5%
NA.PR.S (National Bank) 5.8% 4.5% May 2024 5.3%

 

Preferred Share – Case to Buy Them Today

Warren Buffet has often said that the key to investing is buying good companies at fair prices. I believe anytime that you can invest in high quality assets at a cheap price is equally effective. Preferred share issuers are typically investment grade companies, so there is limited credit risk. The dividend payments rank in priority to equity holders and most importantly, they are trading today at substantial price discounts relative to the yield premium investors can collect over bonds. Perpetual preferred shares are paying premiums of nearly 4% over long dated bonds. Typically, this premium is closer to 2%. Rate resets do carry some interest rate risk but that can be reduced substantially by buying issues with different maturity dates while investors can collect premiums of 5% or more over bonds.

In late 2008 through 2009, I bought preferred shares for myself and my clients to earn a high dividend rate with minimal risk of default based on the high quality of the issuers. I also figured that there was a good chance for price appreciation when more normal market conditions returned. By 2011, many of those preferred shares were up over 20% and had paid over 10% in dividends. Preferred shares are unloved today, but definitely offer significant value and a high rate of tax advantaged income. Income investors who do not own them, should definitely consider adding preferred shares to their portfolios, while those that do own them presently will continue to receive high levels of income and may be rewarded for their patience.

[i] Source: BMO CM 50 Preferred Share Index – May 2019. BMO Capital Markets
[ii] Based on June 18, 2019 market prices
[iii] 30 Year Government of Canada Bond
[iv] 5 Year Government of Canada Bond
[v] Based on 5 Year Government of Canada Bond at June 18, 2019 and reset spread

Lorne Zeiler
Written By:
Lorne Zeiler, MBA, CFA
VP, Portfolio Manager
lorne@tridelta.ca
416-733-3292 x225

The Financial Media Can Be Harmful to Your Wealth

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“Success in investing doesn’t correlate with I.Q…. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”

– Warren Buffet

As Warren Buffet and countless other investment gurus have observed, one of the most important factors for being a successful investor is the ability to control your emotions.  While there are numerous analytical tools that can be used to assess the quality, value, cash flow and potential future returns of an investment, they are often trumped in decision making by an investor’s emotions, particularly greed and fear.

Fear of loss is by far the more powerful of the two emotions.  In fact, behavioural economists have found in multiple studies that investors view the pain associated with losses as twice as emotionally powerful as the joy experienced from gains.  When equity markets drop, investors become more and more risk averse as a result.  The aversion is heightened if the drops are meaningful (5%+) and if they happen over a short time period.

The media, while an excellent source for timely details on the economy and company specific information, is also known to sensationalize stories that play on an investor’s emotions.  By dramatizing a story, the news source can attain a much larger audience, meaning more clicks, views and interest.  Unfortunately, these stirring stories can lead investors to become more emotional and to make bad investment decisions.

During rising markets, stories are often tilted positively to build on an investor’s greed and desire for quick wealth.  During down or volatile markets, stories tend to focus on risks and negative factors that play upon investor’s fears.  These fears often can lead investors to react by indiscriminately selling their portfolio holdings, regardless of that investor’s goals, needs or even whether the investment is of good quality, offers attractive value or needed income.  This indiscriminate selling can result in lower long-term returns and the risk that the investors do not reach their retirement goals.

One recent example was an article on Bloomberg’s website on March 8, 2018 titled “JP Morgan Co-President Sees Possible 40% Correction in Equity Markets”.   While the title was factual, it only told part of the story and in this case, the part it did not tell was far more important.

Daniel Pinto, the co-president of JPMorgan stated that within the next 2-3 years,  there is likely to be a deep correction in US equity markets of 20-40%, so the headline is factual, but it is nuanced to indicate that the correction is imminent or at least likely to occur in the near-term, not in 2-3 years AND the headline uses the most extreme scenario of a 40% correction vs. the range of 20%-40%.  The other element the headline does not include is Pinto’s short-term views, as JPMorgan has generally been positive on the short to medium term prospects for equity markets, i.e. JPMorgan anticipates that the market will rise further prior to a correction.  For example, if Pinto sees the market going up 20% in the next two years prior to a correction and the market then drops 20%, the investor’s return is closer to 0% (including dividends earned).  A near zero percent return is likely insufficient to meet most investors’ near-term goals, but that is a lot less scary than losing perhaps 40% of their current wealth.

While the headline could incite fear in investors, a more thorough reading of the facts presented in the article should instead yield some caution and reflection.  The article highlights that we are in the latter stages of a bull market and due to the low volatility and strong performance of the equity market in late 2016 – early 2018, many investors’ expectations have become too high.  During this later stage of a rally, investors should take a breath and reflect to see if their portfolios are in line with their target asset allocations and risk tolerance.  It is also a good time for investors to meet with a financial professional to review their goals, cash flow needs, taxes, risk tolerance, time horizon and unique circumstances to create a customized and detailed financial plan and investment policy statement.  Investors with formal financial plans and investment policy statements are more likely to stick to those plans and be less swayed by emotions.

Reading a full financial article, not just the headlines, is a good way to uncover useful information for investing.  Coupled with a comprehensive financial plan, thoughtfully reading full articles (not just the headlines), is a proven way to control your emotions and to protect your wealth.

Lorne Zeiler
Written By:
Lorne Zeiler, MBA, CFA
VP, Wealth Advisor
lorne@tridelta.ca
416-733-3292 x225

Lorne Zeiler on BNN’s The Street – March 21, 2018

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Lorne Zeiler, VP, Portfolio Manager and Wealth Advisor, TriDelta Investment Counsel, was the guest co-host on BNN’s The Street on Wednesday, March 21st discussing the following:

Income Investing Strategies in the Current Environment

Given the expectations of rising interest rates and renewed market volatility a traditional bond or dividend focused portfolio may be incapable of generating sufficient income at low volatility needed by investors. Lorne Zeiler, Portfolio Manager, discusses how to design a stable, income producing portfolio in this environment on BNN’s the Street.
Click here to view

Keeping Calm and Profiting from Volatile Markets

When markets drop significantly in short periods investors often let emotions take over and make bad investment decisions. Lorne Zeiler, Portfolio Manager, discusses how to take emotions out of investing by designing a stable, diversified portfolio, including alternative assets, on BNN’s the Street.
Click here to view

Lorne Zeiler
Written By:
Lorne Zeiler, MBA, CFA
VP, Wealth Advisor
lorne@tridelta.ca
416-733-3292 x225

Lorne Zeiler on BNN’s Market Call, February 7, 2018

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Lorne Zeiler, VP, Portfolio Manager and Wealth Advisor, TriDelta Financial, was the guest on Market Call last night (February 7, 2018).

Below is a link to Lorne’s top picks, market commentary and past picks

Click here to view

Lorne Zeiler
Written By:
Lorne Zeiler, MBA, CFA
VP, Wealth Advisor
lorne@tridelta.ca
416-733-3292 x225

Lorne Zeiler on BNN’s ‘The Street’, Jan.12, 2018 – TriDelta Fixed Income Fund

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Lorne Zeiler, VP, Portfolio Manager and Wealth Advisor, TriDelta Investment Counsel, was the guest co-host on BNN’s The Street on Friday January 12th discussing the following:

TriDelta Fixed Income Fund Generates 6.5% Return in 2017 (vs. Index return of 2.5%)

The TriDelta Fixed Income Fund generated a 6.5% Return in 2017 (vs. 2.5% for the index). Lorne Zeiler, Portfolio Manager, discussed the benefits of active management in fixed income investing and income alternatives on BNN’s the Street this morning.
Click here to view

Lorne Zeiler
Written By:
Lorne Zeiler, MBA, CFA
VP, Wealth Advisor
lorne@tridelta.ca
416-733-3292 x225

Lorne Zeiler on BNN’s ‘The Street’, Jan.12, 2018 – TriDelta Financial’s 2018 Market Outlook

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Lorne Zeiler, VP, Portfolio Manager and Wealth Advisor, TriDelta Investment Counsel, was the guest co-host on BNN’s The Street on Friday January 12th discussing the following:

TriDelta Financial’s 2018 Market Outlook.

While Equity valuations are quite high (particularly in the United States), we still feel there is more room for the Bull market to run in the short-term, but that the best opportunities may be in Emerging Markets, Europe and Japan. Lorne Zeiler, Portfolio Manager, discusses our views this morning on BNN.
Click here to view

Lorne Zeiler
Written By:
Lorne Zeiler, MBA, CFA
VP, Wealth Advisor
lorne@tridelta.ca
416-733-3292 x225
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