Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Investing Solo – Floating-Rate Debt

Yesterday I posted comments (link) about my search for promising individual floating-rate preferred stocks, in the absence of any viable fund that I know of, as a hedge against rising interest rates and inflation. I thought I would add here a few comments about some other floating rate exchange-traded debt I’ve looked at. I am an individual investor with no background in finance or markets, and, of course, nothing I am about to say constitutes investment advice of any kind – merely my personal observations and decisions, and I do not vouch for the accuracy of any representation – every investor needs to do his/her own due diligence.

Most floating rate exchange-traded debt securities are traditional preferred stock issues, but there are some others, although not many. In the category of exchange-traded bonds, two are from Sallie Mae, but I am afraid of this outfit in light of what happened to Fannie and Freddie, notwithstanding a recent favorable Barron’s article. The one issue I’ve looked at is PFK, from Prudential Financial rated investment grade, paying a monthly dividend based on a CPI-derived inflation rate metric plus 2.4 percentage points with a floor of zero. At today’s close of $25.35, PFK sports an annual yield of about 3.5%. It’s trading just a bit over par of $25, and will mature in 2018, a little over 7 years from now. Reference points are that I can find currently low-IG fixed-rate exchange-traded bonds at over 7% and riskier floating-rate preferred stock with fully-taxable equivalent yields of over 5.5% at the 35% bracket. One can only guess at how fast interest rates will rise and to what levels between now and 2018 when this note matures; and I must factor in the capital loss of $0.35 at maturity, which is about 1.4% of today’s price. This security has traded as high as $26.83 in the past 12 months, which, apart from a current low interest rate, means at that price a loss of $1.83 (6.8%) in 7-8 years. It seems to me that buyers of PFK at that price were betting on a lot of inflation and relatively soon. On the other hand, PFK has traded as low as $19.36 in the past year, which would mean a capital gain of $5.64 per unit if held until maturity; as a very rough estimate, assuming 8 years till maturity, that’s a straight average base of about 3.6% per year before the variable interest payment. But that deal is now gone, and PFK is not attractive enough to me, given my guess at the size and speed of rates to come, at the current price of a little over $25.

UBS-D is a floating-rate low-IG trust preferred from UBS that pays a monthly distribution, reset monthly, at the annualized rate of 0.70% point above the one-month Libor. The issue is past call with no maturity date. The current annualized rate is a measly 1.47% at today’s close of $16.98. However, QuantumOnline’s interpretation is that this security qualifies for the 15% QDI tax rate, so, if true, the 1.47% nominal annualized yield translates to an annualized fully taxable equivalent yield of about 1.92% at the 35% rate. A little bit better but not enough for me at this time. But since this security has buyers at this price, there clearly are people whose views of the inflation risk lead them to this security at this yield.

So, as to my original challenge – finding good investments in exchange-traded individual floating-rate debt securities.  So far I’ve been disappointed – there are relatively few floating-rate IG securities to begin with, and those I’ve looked at have been bid up to prices consistent with what seems to me a fairly aggressive view of the timing and height of interest rates to come. Thus for now I’ve taken only smallish positions in two floating-rate preferred stocks, which offer much better current yields than the exchange-traded debt I've looked at albeit in a more risky type of security, while I brace for interest rates to come.  Given the relative paucity of floating-rate exchange-traded debt and preferreds, it seems to me that investors interested in this category must look to individual securities rather than waiting for a fund to come along.  

Mike Parenti

Related posts:
Investing Solo – Floating-Rate Debt - GFY

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