you thought the incompetence couldn’t get any worse at Nalcor, along comes another
scheme to up the ante on deceit and dumb.
Nalcor even tries
to put the blame on U.S. President Donald Trump.
insult to injury, Nalcor and the Ball Government did their best to cover up the
occurred in May of this year. An eagle-eyed Nalcor watcher, able to parse Nalcor’s
most opaque assertions, brought the contents of the corporation’s last
quarterly financial statement to my attention.
money was lost, and the risky financial tool employed, is not an easy subject to
“futures” market is an arcane world in which a great deal of expertise is needed to play. Still, most people understand what it means to speculate. And many of them understand the sting of loss. Of course, most people play with their own – not public money.
financial loss Nalcor experienced is so large, and the behaviour of those
involved too circumspect, to allow it to be buried simply because it is
attempt to explain how the $66.9 million disappeared.
Introduction to the “futures” market
approval of the “additional” Federal Loan Guarantee of $2.9 billion for the
estimated $12.7 billion Muskrat Falls project, Nalcor completed the debt
financing in May 2017. Then, by its own admission, the corporation “entered
into bond forwards totalling $1.82 billion on May 12, 2017 to hedge the
Government of Canada (“GOC”) benchmark bond interest rate exposure…” The
hedge period ended May 18, 2017. Why Nalcor felt it needed to engage in such a
high-risk strategy is far from clear.
like most things touched by Nalcor, the scheme failed.
forward” is a “futures” contract. Futures are commonly traded by hedgers and
speculators to take advantage of price movements in a commodity or a financial
instrument, like a bond. Traders in futures attempt to lock-in the price of a
commodity — today — at a price offered at a specified future date: hence the
term “futures”. Bond traders use the futures market to employ hedging
strategies to protect the value of their bonds against market volatility — as
well as for speculative returns.
miscalculation can be very costly if speculators find themselves on the wrong
side of a trade — as Nalcor learned. For example, a miniscule
drop in the interest rate — yield — on a bond can negatively affect the value
of that bond when the parties settle up. Gains/losses on bond futures — or any
futures trade — can occur within hours or even seconds, subject to the vagaries
of the market. Nalcor’s loss of $66.9 million in just six days defines the
risk of a hedging strategy better than any example I might offer.
minding the shop at Nalcor?
contracts are so risk-laden, that any decision involving $1.82
billion — or even a fraction of that sum — would require the express approval
of the company’s CEO.
Nalcor possesses no bond market expertise, and certainly none in the business
of trading futures. Trading on this scale may be done by international oil
giants like Exxon Mobil — which might also want to hedge against currency risk
— but that is the business of private companies, who employ the expertise. It is not a business for governments.
responsible CEO of a government owned corporation — if he understands risk — would gamble with such a huge amount of public money anyway.
this failed hedge have raised the eyebrows of some in the financial community
who were consulted by this blogger.
expressed surprise that the financial officers at Nalcor were persuaded that
they needed to hedge those bonds for just six days when ‘normal business risk’
might have been employed given the short period of the hedge, the huge amount
of capital at stake, and the risk of major loss.
wondered why such a high-ratio hedge was necessary: $1.82 billion on $2.9
billion. Indeed, the high ratio raises a red flag on the whole transaction. He
suggested, too, that Nalcor should be asked to disclose the fees recorded on
the transaction, and other questions, too, apart the unwarranted risk to public money.
Was the $1.1
million which Nalcor said in the quarterly statement could be “recognized
immediately” the amount of the fees received by the broker in the transaction?
When did Stan Marshall find out about the speculation and the loss?
Did he authorize the transaction?
Nalcor attempts to explain loss in private email to one person
another for why it failed.
Nalcor stated in answer to questions from the private citizen who had parsed the financial statement that in the same
week, “as the MF bonds were to be priced, there was also a GOC (Government of
Canada) long bond issuance planned. Historical analysis had shown the rates on
the GOC benchmark bonds often tended to rise over the weekend prior to long
bond issuances, and putting bond forwards in place would help mitigate this
phraseology is its own proof that Nalcor willingly engaged in the speculation.
of Trump/Comey headlines over that weekend and the related financial market
uncertainty it created, the underlying GOC rates actually decreased between May
12 and May 18, resulting in a lower coupon (yield) rate on the bonds and a
hedge payout of $66.9 million.” (Here,
“hedge payout” is Nalcor’s code for the $66.9 million loss it took on the
six-day period drove down the coupon rate — blowing through even the low
interest rate which, just a few days earlier, was commanded by the federal
government’s loan guarantee.
experienced investors know that ascribing reasons to losses in the bond market,
as in the stock market is, at best, a mug’s game. Given all the issues which
influence trading over the course of a minute, an hour or a day, no one ever
really knows why a move occurs.
of so much money, especially when billions have already been squandered by
Nalcor on the Muskrat Falls project. As always, when public money goes missing there is the issue of accountability.
million is lost — when 3.68% of the $1.8 billion hedge evaporates in just six
days — one might expect that Nalcor has an obligation to inform the public.
the Corporation certainly has a responsibility to inform the Minister of
Finance (then Cathy Bennett). Given the sum lost, the Premier should have gone in front of the microphones.
warrant his attention. But Cathy Bennett or Siobhan Coady should have been expected to inform
the public if he wasn’t up to it.
know if the decision was taken by a rogue official at Nalcor, or if management
(i.e. CEO Stan Marshall) approved the speculation.
even know if Nalcor informed the Finance Minister or the Minister of Natural
that neither the Premier nor a Minister told the public. And Stan Marshall
stayed silent, seemingly happy to have the whole affair buried.
the disclosure in its quarterly financial statement. The statement was released on August 14, 2017
– making that date the first time the public was given notice that the new monies had been raised under the additional Federal Loan Guarantee.
of the accounting and investment community in the province would be hard pressed to figure out what Nalcor was reporting given the advisory was sanitized. See the excerpt from page 12 of the Quarterly Report below:
the Nalcor PR machine completely omitted reference to the failed hedge and the
$66.9 million loss in its Press Release announcing the “highlights” of Nalcor’s second quarter results — though it
found ink for far less important matters!
When the press statement got to the $2.9 billion
additional federal loan guarantee, Nalcor mentioned not a word about the egregious loss of public money. The release was simply limited to this
The first response of the Ball Government ought to have been to send some people, very senior, packing. If he authorized the scheme, the list of persons fired ought to have included CEO Stan Marshall himself.
If the decision was made by a rogue executive, by now we should have heard to whom indictments were issued!
Premier Ball and Stan Marshall need to come clean with public
with the public has long been absent from Nalcor’s — and the Government’s —
agenda. With the Premier’s acquiescence, Stan Marshall has done nothing to change
what former CEO Ed Martin entrenched long ago.
Wasn’t the Nalcor Board given a new Chair? Do the new Board’s Members understand their obligations?
Nalcor’s arrogance and incompetence has been exposed again.
Government – and CEO Stan Marshall – owe the public some long overdue accountability.