In a stunning development involving Canada's largest alternative lender which as recently as a month ago was facing virtually certain insolvency after a furious depositor run drained it of liquidity, overnight Home Capital Group announced that billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway will indirectly acquire C$400 million ($300 million) of the firm’s shares in a private placement through its Columbia Insurance unit, for about a 38.4% stake, and will aso provide a new C$2 billion ($1.50 billion) line of credit to its unit Home Trust Co, ending the Canadian lender's strategic review process.
"Home Capital's strong assets, its ability to originate and underwrite well-performing mortgages, and its leading position in a growing market sector make this a very attractive investment," said Warren Buffett, Berkshire chairman and CEO, failing to comment on the lender's numerous regulatory problems.
Aside from the rescue loan, Berkshire will make an initial investment of C$153.2 million to buy 16 million common shares and an additional investment of C$246.8 million to purchase 24 million shares through a private placement. In total, Berkshire will hold an about 38.39% equity stake in Home Capital after buying 40 million shares at an average price of about C$10.00 per common share, a 33% discount compared with yesterday’s closing price of C$14.94.
"Berkshire's investment is a strong vote of confidence,” in the long-term value of the business, Brenda Eprile, Home Capital’s chairwoman. Canada's biggest non-bank lender also said it will continue to explore further asset sales and financing deals over the next year, but has concluded its strategic review process that began in April.
Many market watchers were stunned by this news, and were scratching their heads at why Berkshire would take the reputation risk of having exposure to a company which as recently as a month ago was in the regulator's crosshairs for peddling "liar loans." As a reminder, last week, Home Capital reached a C$30.5 million settlement with the Ontario Securities Commission, settled a class action lawsuit and accepted responsibility for misleading investors about problems with its mortgage underwriting procedures.
Once upon a time, Buffett would run from companies such as this; now he is actively drawn to them.
In any case, the move will likely assure an interim turnaround in the 30-year-old lender after a regulator in April accused it of misleading shareholders on mortgage fraud, which sent its shares tumbling, sparked withdrawals and threatened to disrupt Canada’s real estate sector. Earlier this week, Home Capital agreed to sell a clutch of commercial mortgages to affiliates of KingSett Capital Inc. for C$1.16 billion in cash.
"This investment from Berkshire not only addresses Home Capital's near-term requirements for additional liquidity and a lower-cost credit agreement, but also facilitates what the Board feels is the best available path to long-term success," Home Capital's Chair Brenda Eprile said.
According to Bloomberg, the deal replaces an existing emergency credit facility on better terms, Home Capital said. The share purchase will be done in two parts: an initial investment of C$153 million for about a 20 percent equity stake, then an additional investment of C$247 million taking the stake to about 38 percent. The second phase requires extra approvals. Berkshire will not be granted any rights to nominate directors and has agreed to only vote shares representing 25 percent of the company’s stock, Home Capital said.
Home Capital shares have more than doubled since bottoming in April when its troubles began to accelerate but remain about 73 percent down from their peak in 2014. The company last week took full responsibility over allegations the lender misled shareholders about mortgage fraud and agreed with three former executives to pay more than C$30 million to reach settlements with regulators and investors.
So why is the octogenarian taking on the credibility risk through this particular investment? For the same reason as explained two months ago in "Warren Buffett Now Selling US Houses To Chinese Oligarchs" - Berkshire is seeking offshore housing markets, and after seeking access to the "desirable" Chinese homebuyer universe with its HomeServices unit, it now is hoping to access Canada.
He may find a cool reception: Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is wading into a tense Canadian housing market, with Toronto house prices cooling after being hit with a 15 percent tax on foreign buyers and tighter mortgage regulations, and confidence shake by the Home Capital drama. Meanwhile, prices are surging in Vancouver again after being sideswiped by similar policy moves.