Soaring High with Air Canada Bonds

Investing in Air Canada Bonds

Don’t expect to eat anything fancy when you’re flying because you’ll just be getting plane food. In last week’s blog post it showed that I had over $7,000 of cash saved up. I usually don’t like to have idle money doing nothing. But it’s hard to decide what to buy when everything appears to be overbought lately. However as I was browsing the fixed income tables on my discount broker site I noticed that Air Canada had issued high yield bonds with a 7.625% coupon, maturing in 2019. This looked like a great opportunity to park some money for the next few years and earn some interest. 🙂 My decision to buy Air Canada bonds at this point was still up in the air. I had to do some research to determine if this was the right investment for me or not.


The first thing I did was calculate my potential return on this bond by looking at the bond description as of early March.

Coupon: 7.625%
Maturity: 10/1/2019
Worst Call Date: 10/1/2016
Ask Price: 105
Yield to Worst: 3.3%
Yield to Maturity: 5.5%

If someone were to buy these bonds then their expected annual return would be 3.3% to 5.5% depending on when the bonds expire. This range of return is better than leaving money in a savings account. So the next thing I did was research the company’s credit risk, which involves analyzing its financials and common shares in the stock market. 🙂

Air Canada’s Credit Analysis

Standard & Poor’s rates the bond a BB, which makes it slightly below investment grade BBB. From a valuation perspective, Air Canada’s stock (AC) is trading rather cheaply. At around $8 per share today, its P/E ratio is just 8.4 times compared to the broad TSX index which is more than 18 times. Out of 14 analysts covering the stock, the majority agrees that AC will become quite a lot higher one year from now.


In terms of historical profitability Air Canada has been somewhat of a mixed bag. The credit crisis of 2008 and high oil prices (fuel cost) made it difficult for AC to operate its way out of the recession. It suffered 4 consecutive years of losses from 2008 to 2011. But when the airline became profitable again in 2012 things were looking up. 😉16-03-air-canada-historical-finances

It appears that in 2013 Air Canada’s stock really took off.


It’s hard to predict how profitable Air Canada will be almost 4 years later when the bond matures, but TD Securities has conducted some estimates of Air Canada’s financials up to 2018. When dissecting tables like this one the most telling figures for me are net income – which describes profitability, and ROIC – which stands for Return on Investment Capital and gives a sense of how well a company is using its money to generate returns. Both metrics are outlined in red below.


Many factors come into play when making these predictions and there are a lot of assumptions made. But if TD ends up being even remotely right then Air Canada could be soaring to new highs in the future. Indeed, the chance for AC to file for bankruptcy protection before the bond’s maturity date seems very small given the low cost of energy.

Air Canada is going through a deleveraging phase and it issued these 7.625% bonds to refinance existing bonds that were at higher yields. These bonds are also first lien secured which means the bond owners are basically at the top of the priority list to be made whole in a worst case scenario where Air Canada has to liquid all its assets. The collateral that these bonds are associated with include real estate, spare engines, and other goods that are tangible and real. These are very senior bonds. They represent a small position in TD’s High Yield Bond fund.

Bond Purchase

Given the returns that this fix income provides and it’s relative low risk of capital loss, I decided to invest $5,000 face value in these Air Canada bonds. 😀 So earlier this week I called a broker at TD and put in the order to buy 5,000 of AC bonds in my RRSP.


There was a $30 commission to place the trade but TD just wrapped the cost into the final price. I also paid $168 in accrued interest. I plan to hold this bond until maturity. So this is what should happen now. Every year I will be paid $381.25 into my RRSP account. Then in October of 2019 Air Canada will return $5,000 back to me. Buying the bond at par ($5,000) would generate a 7.625% annual return. But because I paid $5,305, or roughly 6% above par, my yearly return for this investment is only 5.5%. It’s not very high, but it’s something. 🙂 If Air Canada decides to call back the bond before 2019 then my return would decrease a bit. But that would also give me the opportunity to roll the proceeds into another investment sooner.

Potential Risks for Air Canada

Some investors believe one of the cardinal rules to smart investing is to maintain a safe distance from airlines, lol. This sector is very unpredictable and goes against energy prices, and most Canadian investors are long energy. According to Warren Buffett, airlines are the worst sector of the stock market for long-term investors.  In an interview with the Telegraph, he explains that the industry “has eaten up capital over the past century like almost no other business because people seem to keep coming back to it and putting fresh money in. You’ve got huge fixed costs, you’ve got strong labor unions and you’ve got commodity pricing. That is not a great recipe for success.”

But that interview took place in 2002. A lot has changed in the industry since then. Back in 2002 the airlines were so cash-strapped that they were about to charge their customers for emotional baggage. But in today’s world Air Canada is cash flow positive and making large profits. 🙂 Much of the old legacy costs and labor disputes have been dealt with too. In 2014 Air Canada worked out a 10-year contract with its pilots. And in 2015, flight attendants also approved a 10-year agreement which includes wage increases, better job security, and improvements to working conditions. So there shouldn’t be any major headwind surprises.

I think there are only two main risks associated with holding these Air Canada bonds to maturity.

  • Global air travel crashes – This could be caused by increased hijacking events, some kind of biological outbreak/pandemic, or the entire economy collapses.
  • Oil prices soar – Oil fell from $100/barrel to below $30/barrel in less than 2 years. It’s possible oil could recover back up to $100/barrel or even higher over the next couple of years if there’s a shock in the energy market. A short-term oil price spike wouldn’t be a big concern but a sustained high cost would be problematic.

Overall I’m happy with my new investment in Air Canada bonds. I think the potential reward of making 5%+ annual return far outweighs the risks. That being said, my previous 2 bond purchases have both fallen in value since I bought them. But you know what they say – third time’s the charm, right?

Random Useless Fact:


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03/10/2016 7:42 am

You realty do love Air Canada, dont you.

03/10/2016 3:25 pm

I really don’t see how the risk/return makes sense on this one

03/11/2016 5:38 am

Alternatively, you can look at cash as an investment vehicle in itself. Cash can be used to buy at dips or to meet debt service. I don’t agree with your stance on cash being useless, but I do relate to how cash can burn a hole in your investing pocket.

03/11/2016 7:11 am

“If you had $5,000 today to throw into the financial markets what would you invest in right now?” Only $5,000? What if you had $50 billion? Everyone wants to be the next Buffett but almost no one does what Buffett does. Here’s how he thinks about cash: “…cash is not just an asset class that is returning next to nothing. It is a call option that can be priced. When he thinks that option is cheap, relative to the ability of cash to buy assets, he is willing to put up with super-low interest rates. He thinks of cash as a call option with no expiration date, an option on every asset class, with no strike price.” Go re-read your many articles on perception and worldview; you see cash as cash, Buffett sees cash as something else. Everybody’s need to be “active” with your cash is definitely a flaw to eliminate. As Buffett’s partner-in-crime, Munger, likes to say, “Ask yourself if this is the best decision for your money, if it’s not, don’t do it.” You’ve already answered that: “Admittedly it’s not my best investment idea.” As your RUF states: “If you have to justify it…odds are it’s a bad… Read more »

Paul N
Paul N
03/11/2016 8:44 am

Doesn’t Air Canada go nearly bankrupt every 10 years or so and is saved by tax payer money? I won’t support them after they killed Rapidair + Canada3000 some years ago. They targeted their routes and undercut them deliberately to kill them as competition (while offering their own poor “surly” service level). This is all good in a level playing field, but if one partially public funded company that knows they will get a bailout, attacks a privately funded one, that’s absolutely wrong. So we end up with a tiny handful of domestic airlines and ultra high pricing. I won’t touch their stock. I would celebrate their collapse if it ever occurred.

Dan R
Dan R
04/05/2016 7:03 pm

Your financial acumen is far beyond your years and I’m always impressed with your blogs. However, one thing to remember is interest rates have primarily been moving down throughout your entire timeframe of investing. This is likely to change as the US economy is picking up and job numbers are indicating that they are likely to increase rates over the next couple of years. No on knows if they are right but if they do start increasing, the market move could be fast and horrendous for yield investments like bonds and mortgage investments.
My first real loss on bonds was Air Canada, I bought them at a discount and got no principal back as they went bankrupt, I think they’ve done this twice so far and they will probably do it again. I’d say your safe with 2019 bonds though but never underestimates your risks. That new airline Leaf may have an impact, union troubles could bubble up. Also, the forecasts are rarely accurate beyond a year or so.
I take it your not meditating in some far off land as you are still blogging so I take it you didn’t sell your farm land or quit your jobs??

04/07/2016 10:47 pm

[…] made a couple of new investments in March, such as buying Air Canada bonds in my RRSP, and adding more Antrim MIC units to my existing holding in my TFSA. In other news, as […]

04/11/2016 6:19 am

Air Canada was bailed out in 2009 by the federal government by posting $200 m. as part of an agreement with a consortium of lenders, which would then stump up a billion in bailout money. As part of the agreement, the federal government removed the collective bargaining rights of the employees.

This is the same type of bailout that kept Thomas Cooke flying by RBS in the UK. It’s correct to assume that in order to make money in the airline industry, you need to be a bond holder, such as owning leases or cornering the risk by buying up credit default swaps.

Perhaps the federal government under the liberals is contriving at the same thing by bailing out both bombardier and the airline simultaneously with the C-series purchase.

High yield markets are in a down trend, so you would wait to see this market bottom out before expecting to invest in a high yield investment. You would also have too look very seriously at the airline index before making any decisions, since a top was formed in the last year.

10/17/2016 6:31 am

[…] this year I purchased some Air Canada bonds for $5,305, with an attractive coupon of 7.625% annual interest rate. Very nice! They […]

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