Daily BriefsEvent-Driven

Event-Driven: Evergrande Real Estate Group, Volkswagen and more

In today’s briefing:

  • Evergrande’s Very Special… Special Dividend?
  • Liquid Universe of European Ordinary and Preferred Shares: July Report

Evergrande’s Very Special… Special Dividend?

By Travis Lundy

Evergrande Real Estate Group (3333 HK) shares rallied enormously sharply in 2017, moving from the mid single digits to HK$30+ by Q3 that year. That year the float in Evergrande was also sharply reduced by the purchases of shares by Chinese Estates Holdings (127 HK) and its owners. 

When the shares fell back after getting squeezed, Evergrande conducted a buyback which got them within a hair’s breadth of the residual minimum free float requirement mandated by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The shares stayed higher. 

Eventually, Evergrande saw more of the employee share options with low exercise prices exercised which increased the share count and float so when shares fell in 2020, the company could buy back shares, and it did so after shares fell to new 3yr lows in the covid-crash. It bought shares back from May to June, again reducing float to within a hair’s breadth of the free float limit, and in the period, shares rose ~50%. 

Then at the start of H2, with a press release about unaudited June sales results and how strong sales had been in H1, the shares popped 40% (from HK$20 to HK$28/share) in three days, then fell back over 6 weeks, going back below HK$20 when the company disclosed it was pre-selling stakes in its property management unit before the IPO, and three days later Evergrande actually issued a profit warning, just before releasing H1 results. 

Also in August, but undisclosed at the time, was the fact that several major real estate developers, including Evergrande, had been called on the carpet to discuss their participation in the so-called Three Red Lines pilot program (the three red lines are a liability-to-asset ratio excluding advanced receipts of 70%, net debt-to-equity ratio of 100%, and cash to short-term debt ratio at 1x). Companies which crossed one of three red lines could not increase interest-bearing borrowing by more than 10% in a year. Cross two of them and they were capped at 5% growth. Cross all three of them and the developer could not increase debt at all. This is tough when funding at HSD to 10+% interest rates are used to carry non-interest-earning land bank. But Evergrande “met” all three so needed to reduce debt and raise cash, discussed in Evergrande May Be Facing a Funding Squeeze

There was a story about a “letter”, later denied by the company, in September, discussing the importance of the local government helping Evergrande deal with its short-term funding issues, which included the issue of the buyback guarantee offered by Evergrande to minority shareholders of Evergrande’s major onshore operating unit Hengda. Evergrande denied the existence of the letter, but despite the fact some Hengda shareholders reportedly wanted out as listing was unlikely, somehow, with the local government’s help, Evergrande announced a new agreement meaning repayment in January 2021 wasn’t necessary. The shares popped and two weeks later Evergrande raised some capital (discussed in Evergrande Equity Placement – Musical Shares.

I had my ideas about WHY those shares were placed, and it was not to raise equity to pay down debt. The capital raised was less than expected despite the large discount and the shares quickly fell below placement price.  So just 3 weeks after raising equity, it started buying back shares, reasonably quickly raising the price above where it had sold shares. This was discussed in Evergrande Equity De-Placement: Musical Shares. Then a couple weeks later, we saw Evergrande Terminate Hengda’s Backdoor Listing so the story left was one of an optically “cheap” but heavily indebted developer, lowering selling prices to liquidate inventory, lower debt and raise cash levels, etc. There were sales of shares of recently listed subsidiaries. There were announcements of how much debt had been lowered.

But shares fell. 

There were stories in Chinese media and in social media about issues with the company’s trade acceptance bills. An article on Bloomberg.com a week ago reported that while Evergrande chairman Hui Ka Yan was in Beijing for the 100th anniversary celebrations 1 July, he met with the Financial Stability and Development Committee, which urged him to solve his company’s debt problems pronto. The article is worth reading. It suggested more worry at the top than thought, and even says FSDC officials had suggested bringing in strategic investors. Hui said he was speaking with local investors. 

Bonds have traded lower and lower and the 2024-2025 maturity bonds appear to be trading in the 60s, with shorter-dated bonds trading at 30+% yield to maturity.

Wednesday, the shares closed at HK$8.91 – lowest in four years. 

Yesterday, there was new news. 

The company announced a board meeting for 27 July where the Board would consider a special dividend. 

My first reaction was, I admit, one of surprise, but on second thought it should not be THAT surprising.

The immediate public comments I have seen suggested an attempt to squeeze shorts. Yes, according to data from the SFC, shorts have risen from levels near-matching covid-crash lows, and now stand at roughly 2.1% of shares out (a bit under 10% of float), but that would not do it.

The single most indebted real estate company in the world, with short-term bonds yielding risk-free-rate plus…. [checks notes] 30+%, where the chairman gets called onto the carpet of the highest financial regulator in China – not the PBOC, CSRC, or CBIRC – above them – urging him to Do Something – sell assets, lower debt, raise equity – deciding to pay a special dividend to its equity holders? 

I expect Hui Ka Yan has his reasons, and I expect those reasons do not include rewarding long-suffering minority shareholders. Or squeezing shorts. 

Liquid Universe of European Ordinary and Preferred Shares: July Report

By Jesus Rodriguez Aguilar


Discounts have not kept a clear trend since mid-June.

Interesting situations and trades

  • Carlsberg A/S (CARLB DC) B shares (with 1/10th of the voting rights of the A shares) are trading at a 18.3% discount (down from July, coming from a 28.4% discount on 19 April) vs. the A shares), some demand for illiquid A shares seems to be the explanation. Maintain Long B shares/short A shares on, if you can get hold of any A shares.

  • Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW GR) exhibited a trend towards a reduction of the discount of preferred shares, until March 2020. The discount has tightened to 13.8% (vs. 22.1% by mid-April). The discount is approaching pre-Covid levels. Maintain long BMW prefs, short common shares on, with a target of a 12% discount.

  • Fuchs Petrolub SE (FPE GR)‘s preference shares premium seems to vary within a range, which is probably liquidity related. It has tightened to 22.3% (down from 29.4% by mid-February and 34.4% in my October report). With over 50% of the ordinary shares, the Fuchs family maintains the majority vote. They have never stated they would consolidate and pride to be #1 among the independent suppliers of lubricants.

    Although there is no reason why the voting rights should be specially dear in Fuchs’s case, voting rights are still valuable and neither the dividend advantage of the preferred shares nor their being members of several midcap indexes (Prime Standard/MDAX; STOXX Europe 600; DAXplus Familiy 30) justify the large premium, in my view. Maintain the trade long common/short prefs on, with a 10% target.

  • Henkel AG & Co KGaA (HEN3 GR) shows a long-term trend towards a reduction of the premium of the preferred shares. The premium has tightened to 11.5% (vs. 15.7% by mid-May). Maintain the trade short prefs/long common shares with a 10% premium target.

  • Voting rights are valuable in a company like Volkswagen (VOW GR). Prefs discount has widened to 25.9% (vs. 20.5% by mid-May, 16.6% by mid-April and 31.8% on 18 March, highest levels since November 2009). Preference shares have in the past traded at a premium due to its higher liquidity and inclusion in stock indexes. That said, the ordinary shares are also liquid. The shareholder structure of Volkswagen is stable, and there seems to be no reason why the discount of the prefs should widen. Volkswagen was considering a separate listing of its Porsche sports car brand in a deal that could boost its valuation, according to Bloomberg, but the company seems to have put those plans on ice. Traton SE (8TRA GR), a subsidiary majority owned by Volkswagen, is squeezing out the minorities (both ordinary and preferred shares) in MAN SE (MAN GR). Recommendation is to avoid this trade for the time being.

  • Danieli & C. Officine Meccaniche (DAN IM):  the mandatory conversion and extraordinary dividend were approved on the shareholders meetings on 28 October. The conversion date is yet to be announced but expected soon (I am aware I have been repeating this since November, but there has no been any further update from Danieli). Since announcement, the adjusted spread has ranged between -5.48% and 7.69%. It is currently 1.3%. Long Danieli ords/short Danieli savings shares, if and when the discount widens.
  • Telecom Italia Sp A (TIT IM) savings shares are trading at a 10.2% premium to ordinary shares (vs. a 7.9% premium by mid-May). The market may think of a conversion of savings into ords à la Buzzi Unicem or Danieli, which makes financial sense as it would save the savings’ dividend advantage. That would dilute the voting power of Vivendi (23.943% of the votes), albeit Vivendi could put its capital to better use than keeping an investment in Telecom Italia. Short savings/long ords.
  • Grifols SA (GRF SM)B shares are trading at a 35.0% discount (vs. 36.1% by mid-April and 39.7% by mid-February), there is a trend towards the tightening of this discount since March 2020 lows, albeit it is taking some time. There are some issues around Grifols leverage and some creative solutions to keeping it contained. The Covid-related antitakeover provisions issued by the Spanish Government mean that the voting rights are less valuable now. Also, the Spanish government plans to introduce double voting rights for “loyal” shareholders (those who have kept the shares for at least two years). Moreover, the by-laws contain a poison pill that should significantly reduce the discount in case of a takeover attempt. The discount in Grifols B shares has averaged 28% since listing of the B shares in February 2016. I recommend setting up the trade long B shares (traded on Nasdaq), short A shares (traded in Madrid). The target is a 27% discount. Please note there is FX risk, which can be hedged.

  • The current discount in Atlas Copco AB (ATCOA SS) B shares vs. A shares is 15.2%  and seems to be on a widening trend.

  • On 10 May, Industrivärden divested its entire holding in SSAB AB (SSABA SS) . Top shareholder is now LKAB (Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag), a government owned Swedish mining company. LKAB is now consolidating its influence in SSAB “in order to take responsibility and ensure that the company continues to have a clear industrial ownership influence at a time when the steel industry is facing major change”. On 7 June, LKAB communicated its increased holding in SSAB (16.0% of the votes and 10.5% of the capital). The discount has tightened to 11.3%, lower than July, due to LKAB not increasing its stake. It seems the time to go long B shares/short A shares.

  • The discount in Volvo AB (VOLVB SS) B shares has slightly tightened since mid-June, from 3.0% to 2.7% (vs. 0.8% discount by mid-February). Still highest levels since January 2016.

  • The discount of non-voting Roche Holding AG (ROG SW) shares has widened to 7.9% (vs. 6.6% by mid-June, and it recently reached 8%), an unseen level since November 2011. The Hoffman family and related holds 45% of the voting rights (shareholder pooling agreement) whilst Novartis holds 33.3% of the voting rights. LTM average daily liquidity (in number of shares traded) for non-voting is 1,656k and 73k, for voting shares. So voting shares have blue-chip liquidity in their own right.

  • The discount in Schroders PLC (SDR LN) has widened to 28.4% (vs 25.7% by mid-June, 30.6% by mid-March and 34.1% by mid-February). I would maintain long non-voting/short voting shares on.

Please read on for table and charts.

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