Home Capital eyes disposals to address funding issues

(This version of the story corrects paragraph 10 to show quote was by Interim CFO Bob Blowes, not Robert Morton as previously stated)

FILE PHOTO: The entry to the Home Capital Group's headquarters are seen in an office tower in the financial district of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

TORONTO (Reuters) - Home Capital Group Inc HCG.TO confirmed on Friday it is considering asset disposals to enable it to refinance more quickly and pay off an emergency loan provided by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.

Shares in Canada’s biggest non-bank lender fell by as much as 20 percent in early trading on Friday before paring losses to trade down 11.6 percent at 1230 EST.

After the stock market closed on Thursday, Home Capital issued first-quarter results in which it said uncertainty around future funding had cast doubt about whether it could continue as a going concern.

Depositors have withdrawn nearly 94 percent of funds from Home Capital’s high-interest savings accounts since March 27, when the company terminated the employment of former Chief Executive Martin Reid.

The withdrawals accelerated after April 19, when Canada’s biggest securities regulator, the Ontario Securities Commission, accused Home Capital of making misleading statements to investors about its mortgage underwriting business.

Home Capital relies on deposits from savers to fund its lending to borrowers, such as self-employed workers or newcomers to Canada, who may not meet the strict criteria of the country’s biggest banks.

Reuters reported on Thursday that Home Capital was in talks to divest about C$2 billion in assets to help pay down a high-interest loan, according to people familiar with the situation.

The lender needs to raise funds to help repay a C$2 billion loan from Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), which provided the high-interest line of credit last month, the terms of which impose an effective interest rate of 22.5 percent on the first C$1 billion Home Capital borrows.

Home Capital has so far drawn down C$1.4 billion from the facility but is hoping to secure alternative funding on more favorable terms.

In a conference call with investors on Friday, Interim Chief Financial Officer Bob Blowes confirmed the company is considering selling assets to enable it to refinance quicker and pay off the emergency loan provided by HOOPP, which he said would significantly impact the company’s performance in 2017.

“Given the cost of the C$2 billion credit line repayment of amounts, repayment of the amounts drawn under this facility in a timely fashion is an essential part of management’s plans. This may necessitate asset dispositions,” he said.

Alan Hibben, a former Royal Bank of Canada RY.TO executive who was brought in a week ago to bolster Home Capital's board, replacing company founder Gerald Soloway, fielded many of the questions on the call, which was the first time Home Capital executives have spoken publicly since the withdrawal of deposits sparked concerns over the lender's liquidity.

Hibben said he “fundamentally believed in the funding model of Home Capital and the role that it played in the market”.

“This company has faced a crisis in confidence and liquidity but a number of steps have been taken to address both our governance and near-term liquidity issues, which will provide a platform which we can build on to assess our strategic alternatives,” he said.

Hibben said he was taking on a grater role, alongside management, to address a “wide range of potential funding sources and strategic transactions”.

He added, however, that he did not expect deals in the coming weeks.

“We have some breathing room so that we can address medium and longer-term issues in a thoughtful way. I don’t expect there to be any new, significant, transactions within the next days and weeks,” he said.

Home Capital disclosed data on Friday that showed the rate of withdrawals by depositors was slowing, a day after the company raised doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Nick Zieminski