Monday, 26 January 2015

Approach to Convertible Issues

An illustration on convertible issue

The fine balance between what is given and what is withheld in a standard-type convertible issue is well illustrated by the extensive use of this type of security in the financing of American Telephone & Telegraph Company.

Since 1913 the company has sold at least seven separate issues of convertible bonds, most of them through subscription rights to stockholders.

The convertible bonds had the important advantage to the company of bringing in a much wider class of buyers than would have been available for a stock offering, since the bonds are popular with many financial institutions which possess huge resources but some of which are not permitted to buy stocks.

The interest return on the bonds has generally been less than half the corresponding dividend yield on the stock - a factor which was calculated to offset the prior claim of the bondholders.

Since the company has been able to maintain its dividend without change for many years, the result has been the eventual conversion of all the older convertible issues into stock.  

Thus the buyers of these convertibles have fared well through the years - but not quite so well as if they had bought the capital stock in the first place.

This example establishes the soundness of American Telephone & Telegraph, but not the intrinsic attractiveness of convertible bonds.

To prove them sound in practice we should need to have a number of instances in which the convertible worked out well even though the common stock proved disappointing.  

Such instances are not easy to find.


Advice by Benjamin Graham on convertibles

Our general attitude toward new convertible issues is thus a mistrustful one.

We mean here, as in other similar observations, that the investor should look more than twice before he buys them.

After such hostile scrutiny he may find some exceptional offerings that are too good to refuse.

The ideal combination, of course, is a strongly secured convertible, exchangeable for a common stock which itself is attractive, and at a price only slightly higher than the current market.  

Every now and then a new offering appears that meets these requirements.

By the nature of the securities markets, however, you are more likely to find such an opportunity in some older issue which has developed into a favorable position rather than in a new flotation.

(If a new issue is a really strong one, it is not likely to have a good conversion privilege.)

Benjamin Graham
The Intelligent Investor

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