Home Capital says it’s in no rush to sell

TORONTO — Cash-strapped alternative lender Home Capital Group says it has a number of interested buyers and investors, but selling itself or its assets is not the company’s priority.

“We do have a number of people who are interested in giving us financial support and/or making a strategic investment or acquisition in the company,” board director Alan Hibben said during a conference call to discuss Home Capital Group’s (TSX:HCG) first-quarter results.

“I don’t want to say though that we’re rushing in order to take that, because I think some of the steps that we’re taking are going to provide a bit of a floor.”

After the call, shares of Home Capital slumped 13.04 per cent to $9.40 in Friday morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

The prospect of a takeover or asset sales are being closely watched by financial markets after Home Capital was hit last month by allegations from staff at Ontario’s securities watchdog that the lender misled investors in its handling of a scandal involving falsified loan applications. The company has said the allegations are without merit.

The allegations spurred customers to pull deposits, which Home Capital uses to fund its mortgage lending. On Thursday, Home Capital warned that material uncertainty exists regarding its future funding capabilities as a result of reputational concerns “that may cast significant doubt upon the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

Earlier this week, Home Capital announced that it plans to sell up to $1.5 billion of its mortgage assets to an independent third party.

Home Capital did not identify the third party buyer during the call, which saw directors and executives peppered with questions from analysts. But the company did say the buyer was someone they had done business with in the past.

When asked if Home Capital is planning to sell more of its mortgage assets, Hibben said it’s looking to other solutions first.

“You don’t shrink your way to greatness,” said Hibben, a former RBC executive who joined Home Capital’s board earlier this month as part of the company’s push to renew its governance and restore investor confidence.

Brenda Eprile, the board’s chair, highlighted the two major challenges facing the struggling mortgage lender: a loss of investor confidence and dwindling funds.

Eprile says the Toronto-based lender is working diligently to resolve those issues and “right the ship.”

But the tone of the call was sombre, with the company’s interim chief financial officer Robert Blowes noting that although he believes the company can be put back on more stable footing, the entity that emerges “will not necessarily be the same Home Capital that we saw only a few weeks earlier.”

And interim CEO Bonita Then said the terms of the emergency $2-billion line of credit the company has secured from the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan will have “significant negative effects” on Home Capital’s financial performance next year.

Earlier on Friday, the lender said it expects to have $125 million deposited in its high interest savings accounts by the end of Friday. That’s down a modest $3 million from the company’s previous liquidity report on Thursday, but a huge drop from $1.4 billion just over two weeks ago.

It also announced deposits with its guaranteed investment certificates stood at $12.52 billion, down $20 million from Wednesday.

The lender announced late Thursday that it earned $58 million or 90 cents a share in the first quarter ended March 31, slightly less than the $64.2 million in earnings or 92 cents a share reported in the first quarter of 2016.

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