A convicted white-collar criminal explains why Ontarians should be outraged by Queen’s Park’s proposed sale of its stake in Hydro One.
As a convicted white-collar criminal, Queen’s Park proposed sale of a majority stake in Hydro One has sparked my interest. The proposal on the table is a con job of astronomical magnitude.
Why is this a bad deal?
Because it is a bad price.
Investment people — like the people who have agreed to help Queen’s Park unload its majority stake in Hydro One — value companies based upon a couple of different factors. Sometimes the value of a company is based on the value of its assets: land, factories, intellectual property, and brand name recognition. The thinking being that better management of those assets might generate higher profits. Sometimes the value of a company is based on its profitability. A stable stream of income is worth paying good money for. Some companies are valued on their assets, others are valued on their earnings; sometimes it’s a little of both.
Hydro One is a stable generator of profits. It has been profitable since it was created out of the breakup of Ontario Hydro. Its profits have grown 6.3 per cent per year for the last 14 years. It reported earnings of $749 million for 2014 — all of which belong to the people of Ontario. You and me.
Now, we all know that the province is in debt. $284 billion. That’s the bad news. The good news is that investors love to buy government bonds. Investors are so eager to buy Ontario bonds that they compete as to who will accept the lowest interest rate. In March, bond investors lent Ontario money for 10 years at a rate of 2.1 per cent. Our average interest rate on all our existing debt is only 3.8 per cent (and falling).
So, we have some numbers to work with: 1) Hydro One earns $749 million. 2) The province pays, on average, a 3.8-per-cent interest rate on its outstanding debt and 3) the province can borrow new money at rates as low as 2.1 per cent for 10 years. So here’s the question: how much should we, as Ontarians, receive for selling this $749-million income stream?
One way to calculate it is to say that $749 million pays all of the interest on $20 billion in existing government debt at a rate of 3.8 per cent. So, to accept anything less than $20 billion in cash is a bad deal.
Another way is to say that $749 million will pay all of the interest on $36 billion of new government debt at a rate of 2.1 per cent. So, to accept anything less than $36 billion in cash is a bad deal.
The number that doesn’t make sense is $15 billion. That’s the value that the premier has put on Hydro One. (If 60 per cent is worth $9 billion then 100 per cent is worth $15 billion). That is the number that Bay Street has convinced the Premier to accept for selling a profitable and growing business that earns $749 million with an earnings growth rate in excess of 6 per cent.
Why is she doing this?
I don’t know. But I can tell you why Bay Street is pushing this deal.
Greed. In addition to buying a blue-chip electricity monopoly at a rock-bottom price they hope to make money by “underwriting” the deal. They intend to charge us a fee for selling our Hydro One to themselves at a terrible price. And a deal of this size could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in fees.
I have a lot of respect for investment bankers. They are the guys (mostly guys, anyway) who help companies “go public” by convincing ordinary Main Street investors to buy shares in newly public companies. That takes a lot of work and is not without some risk.
What will not take a lot of work for them and involves no risk is selling Hydro One at a ridiculous, giveaway price.
I am not an expert on whether or not Hydro One needs new management or if we would all be better served if Hydro One were not 100 per cent owned by the people of Ontario. But I do know that for $9 billion, the new shareholders should get somewhere around 30 per cent of the company, not 60 per cent.
This deal is the biggest con I’ve ever seen.
Keith M. Summers is a former hedge fund manager and was convicted of fraud in 2014. He is currently serving a three-year sentence. His book, Conned: How Wall Street Rips You Off and How to Fight Back will be published this fall.