Are you familiar with the “Bad Bank” strategy? It is a new bank set up to buy the bad loans of a bank that has a significant amount of nonperforming assets. Those assets are purchased at market prices. If the assets remained on the original bank’s books, they would be forced to take big write-downs. So, the “good bank” sells the assets to the bad bank, and clears their balance sheet.
And the “bad bank” goes off to fail, be recapitalized, or liquidated. The shareholders and bondholders of the “bad bank” stand to lose money from this solution but its depositors will be bailed out by the government.
Occidental Petroleum (OXY) made a similar deal last November by spinning off California Resources, (CRC) and since then, most investors that bought into the deal got burned.
CRC held OXY’s oil-and-gas exploration assets in California. CRC is CA’s largest natural gas producer and its largest oil-and-gas acreage holder with operations in Los Angeles, San Joaquin, Ventura, and Sacramento. OXY was the big player in the Monterey Shale formation, which had been hyped as the largest reserves of oil in the US. But, in 2014, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) downgraded the amount of OXY’s known reserves in CA. From Wolf Richter: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)
The LA Times spilled the beans last week [May 2014] that the EIA is set to severely downgrade the Monterey Shale in California in an upcoming report. Once thought to hold 13.7 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, the EIA now believes only about 600 million barrels are accessible. Slashing technically recoverable estimates by 96% could be enough to kill off the shale revolution in California.
Six months later, OXY exited CA shale by spinning off 80.5% of CRC to OXY’s shareholders. CRC’s shares began trading on the NYSE on December 1, 2014. As part of the spinoff, CRC paid OXY a special dividend of $6 billion. To fund the dividend, CRC issued bonds totaling $5 billion and leveraged loans for the remainder. This debt now costs CRC about $330 million a year in interest.
Back in 2014, hedge funds were clamoring for energy spinoffs. They’d buy a big stake in the parent company and push the board to do a spinoff that entailed loading the spinoff up with debt to fund a fat special dividend back to the parent.
“Unlocking value,” is the Wall Street term for this kind of financial engineering. Wall Street then made sure that there were enough unwitting or yield-desperate buyers for the bonds. The hedge funds made their money, and moved on.
Then CRC reported its second quarter earnings, which showed a net loss of $68 million on revenues that had plunged 45% to $609 million. And on September 15, Moody’s slashed CRC’s corporate rating from Ba2 to B1, and the bonds from Ba2 to B2. All of it with “negative outlook”. Moody’s described CRC’s relatively high costs of production and interest costs totaling $31.71 per barrel of oil equivalent. It pointed to low oil prices that it didn’t expect “to improve materially in 2016.”
So in 2014, no investor realized that CRC’s reserves had been cut by 96%? Or, that their break-even cost per barrel was $31+?
This Cali deal is Straight Outta Enron.
Now the question is can CRC survive without having to resort to a debt restructuring, bankruptcy, and a total shareholder wipe-out?
These kinds of deals are best pulled off in a credit bubble. Low interest rates force some investors to chase yield, and the unwitting buyers that have these fruits of Wall Street’s labor in their portfolios are the ones who feel the pain. Wall Street will tell you that the dividend and spinoff were disclosed in advance, so it’s not “fraud” by the company. It’s just “stupidity” by yield-hungry investors.
Why do you care? These securities could easily be in your 401k, or in an ETF that you own directly, assuming that you are among the 48% of Americans that have investment accounts.
So it is time for We the People to wake up to Wall Street’s financial engineering and what masquerades as legalized robbery. To help with the wake up, here is John Lennon’s “Power to the People”:
You will note the nearly completed Twin Towers at the end of the video. For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.