Monday, 25 February 2013

LBO? No problemo!

"No problemo" is a slang expression used in North American English to indicate that a given situation does not pose a problem. It has roughly the same meaning as the expression "no problem," but is rarely heard as a response to "I'm sorry." - source Wikipedia

While looking at the quick succession in LBOs (Dell, Heinz), a subject we have tackled with Dell recently in our conversation "The return of LBOs - For whom the Dell tolls", as a credit investor, the "sucker punch" capacity of inflicting serious pain to the investment grade bondholder is reminiscent of the hay days leading to the burst of the credit bubble in 2007.

In similar fashion to the Dell transaction, the Heinz effect was rather more sanguine than ketchup, and probably as spicy as tabasco when it comes to spicing things up a bit in the CDS space - source Bloomberg:
From 50 bps to 200 bps, given Buffett's new found love for the ketchup is transforming H.J. Heinz into the most leveraged food maker in America as reported by Mary Childs in her Bloomberg article on the 21st of February - Buffett’s Ketchup Fancy Plies Heinz With Junk:
"Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and 3G Capital Inc.’s $23 billion acquisition of Heinz may double the company’s total debt to five times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to Fitch Ratings, the highest of any comparable food company. The cost to protect Heinz’s debt from losses soared to a record after the announcement. While Buffett has used takeovers to build Berkshire into a $249 billion company and burnish his reputation as the world’s most successful investor, financing the deal with $14.1 billion in debt threatens to strip Heinz of the investment-grade rating that it’s had for four decades. Fitch cut Heinz to junk on Feb. 15 and credit-default swaps imply a Ba1 rating, according to Moody’s Corp.’s capital markets research group. That’s two steps lower than its Baa2 rating from Moody’s Investors Service and three below its BBB+ grade from Standard & Poor’s. The trading “underscores the hazards of high-grade bonds in an active M&A environment,” said Martin Fridson, chief executive officer of research firm FridsonVision LLC. Investors should be aware of the “inherent danger now that leveraged buyouts as well as strategic acquisitions are once again prominent in the financial landscape,” he said." - source Bloomberg.

The cheap credit environment is indeed sufficiently friendly for shareholders in this on-going releveraging process and arguably very unfriendly and painful, to say the least, for the investment grade portfolio manager, given that the LBO story is clearly more favorable to equity investors than credit investors facing multiple downgrades and Profit and Loss hits.

In a recent note by CITI entitled "Ever Been a Better Time for a LBO?" published on the 22nd of February 2013, they argue that the current cheap credit environment makes the pursuit of shareholder-friendly activity quite compelling relative to historical norms:
"Question: If you could buy the exact same company for $75 today (sale price) or for $100 tomorrow (full price), which would you chose?

Answer: Depends. Paying full price may very well be better than paying the sale price if borrowing costs for the two are different. Price is one part of the “package.”

When considering re-leveraging activity, our sense is that many market participants tend to overlook the “package effect,” and as a result under-appreciate the extent to which corporate managers could favor shareholders. In fact, in a sum-of-the-parts context the argument for LBOs may look as compelling as it ever has." - source CITI

As we have also argued in our conversation "Bold Banking", when one looks at the return of Cov-lite loans to the fore front, no doubt to us we are entering, once again bubble territory in the credit space. In May 2012, we specifically discussed this return in our conversation "The return of Cov-Lite loans and all that Jazz...":
"Unintended consequences" of low rates environment have led to a flurry of issuance of Cov-lite loans again in the market."
"Low borrowing costs: Current borrowing costs are hovering near all-time lows. For example, a typical LBOed company is likely to carry a single-B rating, and Figure 2 (previous page) shows that the yield for the average single-B issuer is almost 4% below the historical norm (5.9% vs. 9.8%). Also noteworthy is that moving from single-A — the typical rating of an “un- LBOed” company — to single-B (likely post-LBO rating) is fairly cheap as well. Figure 3 (previous page) shows that the yield difference between the two is now only 3.4%, vs. the long-term average of 4.7%. And there are other lending features in the current environment that in practice cheapen borrowing costs as well, such as the relative lack of covenants (Figure 4). It really doesn’t seem to cost that much to move down the quality now." - source CITI

The "unintended" consequences of ZIRP courtesy of the Fed is favoring releveraging of corporates' balance sheets:
"Reasonable valuations: So an LBOed company in the current environment can be expected to provide a high income stream due to low interest expense, and equity stakeholders may now have an above average chance of collecting this income stream. But in addition, one also doesn’t have to pay all that much for these advantages; the PE ratio for the typical IG name is currently 12.8 (based on our sample universe as explained below), compared to the historical norm of 16.4 (Figure 6)." - source CITI

CITI goes further in their note displaying a real world example for the sake of the demonstration:
"Based on our sample universe, the typical “un-LBOed” company currently has $3.8 bn in total debt outstanding, current market cap of $13.8 bn, and earnings before interest of $1.8 bn (Figure 7). Given our assumptions, after an LBO this company’s equity value will decline by $9.6 bn and total debt will increase by the same amount." - source CITI
"Impact of low borrowing costs: If we consider an LBO scenario in a historical context borrowing cost rises from 5.1% (long-term average yield of the typical single-A issuer) to 9.8% (average single-B). Higher borrowing cost means that net income would fall from $1.58 bn to $0.45 bn for the typical name (albeit divided among fewer shareholders, of course; Figure 8). But currently all-in yields are low and the yield difference between the average single-A and single-B is only 3.4%, which means that interest expense rises by a fairly small amount (Figure 8, previous page). As a result, net income is not pressured by higher borrowing costs anywhere close to normal, and post-LBO net income is far higher than usual ($0.98 bn)." - source CITI

Given the pressure on CEOs to increase ROEs, the LBO can indeed justify the recourse in leveraging the balance sheet as indicated by the below table from CITI's note indicative of the potential increase of ROE that can be achieved via a typical LBO for an investment grade company:
"Pay less for more! One could normally expect the ROE for a typical company to be more or less flat post LBO (Figure 10). This is not all that surprising, as sponsors get paid to shift through the details. The multiple one has to pay for flat performance is normally 16.4x. But now the increase in ROE is over 11% in a post-LBO scenario (from 12.2% to 23.4%). And to get the relatively high ROE the multiple one must pay is lower than normal, not higher (12.8x vs. 16.4x)." - source CITI

As a reminder, in 2008, about one quarter of the 86 S&P-rated companies that defaulted on debt were private equity backed, but , as CreditSights put it in in their 29th of July 2008 report entitled LBO Analysis - It is more than Just Financial Metrics:
"Creating value by adding leverage is, in essence, an arbitrage strategy. And, like any arbitrage return, it will ultimately be arbitraged away as participants increase. 
Despite the favorable lending terms during 2005-2006 credit bubble, it stands that there is even less ability to create value simply from leverage.
LBO management can enhance value by exploiting knowledge of a competitor's play book when on the offense and by taking more financially productive responses when on defense." - source CreditSights

We could not agree more.

Stay tuned!

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