Panic Bank Run Leaves Canada's Largest Alternative Mortgage Lender On Edge Of Collapse
After two years of recurring warnings (both on this website and elsewhere) that Canada's largest alternative (i.e., non-bank) mortgage lender is fundamentally insolvent, kept alive only courtesy of the Canadian housing bubble which until last week had managed to lift all boats, Home Capital Group suffered a spectacular spectacular implosion last week when its stock price crashed by the most on record after HCG revealed that it had taken out an emergency $2 billion line of credit from an unnamed counterparty with an effective rate as high as 22.5%, indicative of a business model on the verge of collapse .
Or, as we put it, Canada just experienced its very own "New Century" moment.
One day later, it emerged that the lender behind HCG's (pre-petition) rescue loan was none other than the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP). As Bloomberg reported, the Toronto-based pension plan - which represented more than 321,000 healthcare workers in Ontario - gave the struggling Canadian mortgage lender the loan to shore up liquidity as it faces a run on deposits amid a probe by the provincial securities regulator. Home Capital had also retained RBC Capital Markets and BMO Capital Markets to advise on “strategic options” after it secured the loan.
Why did HOOPP put itself, or rather its constituents in the precarious position of funding what is a very rapidly melting ice cube? The answer to that emerged when we learned that HOOPP President and CEO Jim Keohane also sits on Home Capital’s board and is also a shareholder. But how did regulators allow such a glaring conflict of interest? According to the Canadian press, Keohane had been a director of Home Capital until Thursday, but said he stepped away from the boardroom on Tuesday to remove the conflict of interest when it became clear HOOPP might step in as a lender.
Keohane further clarified on Friday that he doesn’t view the Home Capital investment as risky because the pension plan will be provided with $2 worth of mortgages as collateral for every $1 it lends to Home Capital.
“We take comfort from the underlying asset portfolio, so we are not looking at Home Capital as a credit,” said Mr. Keohane in an interview with Business News Network television. He added that a correction in the housing market is not of great concern, since the values of homes would need to plummet by more than 65 per cent for the fund to make no return beyond the value of its principal commitment.
Furthermore, it appears that Canada's pensioners are priming all other company lenders: Keohane also said that the funding syndicate would rank above Home Capital’s other lenders.
“We have security interest in the collateral we’ve received, so we have the right to sell that collateral if we don’t get paid. And then the balance that’s left over would go to recovery for other creditors.”
The implication is that as long as HCG's mortgages dont suffer greater than 50% losses, HOOPP's pensioners should be money good. Of course, if this is indeed Canada's "subprime moment", any outcome is possible. As for other lenders, or the prepetition (because there will be a petition here, the only question is when and in what form) equity, that's some $4 billion in assets that was just stripped from existing collateral.
"The Best Price May Come From Breaking Up The Company"
In any case, the company's frenzied, emergency measures to stabilize the near-insolvent mortgage lender were not nearly enough, and despite HCG stock posting a modest rebound on Friday between hopes of a rumored sale and a short squeeze, those hopes may be dashed soon because as the Globe and Mail reports, the depositor bank run that gripped Home Capital Group in the past week, only got worse after the company revealed just how precarious its funding situation had become.
First, any hope the company, or rather its investors may have held of a sale, appear dashed. Investment banking sources cited by the G&M said "the best possible price may come from breaking up the company and selling portions of its mortgage portfolio to regional financial institutions." Which also implies that aside from a few select assets, there is no equity value left, or in other words, any potential buyer is now motivated to wait until HCG liquidates, and then picks off the various assets in bankruptcy court.
There are structural limitations as well: Home Capital currently holds $18-billion in home loans outstanding, "a portfolio that would be difficult to swallow for rivals in the alternative mortgage sector, such as credit unions, small mortgage lenders, Montreal-based Laurentian Bank and Edmonton-based Canadian Western Bank." These institutions, along with private equity firms, could still bid for pieces of Home Capital, the G&M admits. The only question is why they would do so before a bankruptcy filing.
While one prominent name features on the list of potential buyers, that of PE giant J.C. Flowers whose CEO J. Christopher Flowers earlier this year said he expected to expand the company’s Canadian real estate lending business, Canada’s six big banks are notable for their absence on a list of bidders. The reason is that Home Capital lends money to home buyers who have been turned down by the major banks and none of these institutions is expected to enter the alternative mortgage sector by acquiring the company.
National Bank of Canada proactively called the equity analysts who follow the company this week to say it would not bid on Home Capital after being asked if it was a potential buyer. Needless to say, the big banks would be quite delighted if one of their "bottom picking" competitors would suddenly go bankrupt.
"When you have a bank run people get spooked"
Which brings us to the most imminent risk facing Home Capital Group, and its subsidiary, Home Trust.
Recall, that on Thursday we observed that as concerns about HCG's viability mounted, depositors were quietly pulling their funding from from savings accounts at subsidiary Home Trust. By Wednesday, when Home Capital revealed it was seeking a $2-billion loan to backstop its sinking savings deposits, shareholders ran for the exits, driving down the company’s share price by 65 per cent on Wednesday alone, and heightening the sense of panic.
On Friday, the company revealed that high-interest savings account balances fell another 36% to $521-million by Friday morning, down by a whopping $293 million from $814-million Thursday and more than $2-billion a month ago.
In other words, had it not been for the emergency HOOPP loan, the company would likely be insolvent as of this moment following what may be the biggest bank run in recent Canadian history; which also explains why the interest rate on the loan is above 20%.
“When you have a run on the bank, people get spooked and they sell and ask questions later,” said a Bay Street investment banker. “It’s investor psychology that takes over.”
As is usually the case, regulator appeared on the scene.... just one day too late.
Canada’s banking industry regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), has gathered data from other financial institutions this week, both to monitor for signs of a broader depositor panic and to track where funds are moving as they leave Home Trust.
OSFI sent an urgent request Wednesday to several smaller and mid-sized financial institutions and credit unions to provide the regulator with up-to-date information about their savings accounts, according to a source. Specifically, OSFI wanted to know the institutions’ most recent account totals for high-interest savings accounts, as well as data on recent redemptions and current levels of high-quality liquid assets.
The request, which the OFSI said had to be fulfilled "as soon as institutions are able", is seen as an attempt to take the pulse of the market by tracking where deposits flowing out of Home Capital may be going, and to gauge whether there is any contagion among other institutions. In recent days, some smaller and mid-sized institutions have also struck up early-stage discussions about whether multiple institutions could join together to explore a deal to buy some of Home Capital’s assets.
As for Canada's big banks, they have already decided that HCG won't survive. Several months ago, Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. told its financial advisers they could no longer steer investors to high-interest savings accounts at Home Capital or rival alternative mortgage lender Equitable Bank. Client money already placed with either bank had to be moved within 60 days.
Then, after Home Capital revealed in March it was under investigation by the Ontario Securities Commission over its disclosure practices, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce introduced a cap of $100,000 per client for purchases of Home Capital guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), which is the maximum level covered by Canada’s deposit insurer.
A spokesperson from Royal Bank of Canada said that, “several weeks ago” the bank introduced a $100,000 cap on Home Capital GICs bought through a full-service broker, although there were no limits for purchases through the firm’s discount brokerage. On Thursday, RBC also released the following entertaining price target scenario: it still has a price target of $8 but fear not, even if RBC is wrong, it promises at least $4/share in residual value. We are not quite as optimistic.
Additionally, late last week, Bank of Nova Scotia said it would stop selling all GICs sold by Home Trust, but said Monday that policy was amended to a limit of $100,000. Bank of Montreal’s brokerage unit also confirmed it has a $100,000 limit on Home Trust GICs but would not say when it went into force.
As G&M adds, the OSC news shook investors, but the panic was heightened as news of the banks' moves to cap investor deposits slowly seeped through Bay Street in subsequent days, raising concerns that major financial institutions were pulling away from Home Capital.