By Dudley Pierce Baker
April 1, 2010
Many traders are familiar with call options and have spent many years and study hours learning strategies to employ them in the markets. Warrants, however, are still a little known and little-understood investment vehicle, even after 80 years of availability. In 1949, Sidney Fried wrote “The Speculative Merits of Common Stock Warrants.” In it, he captures the profit potential of these instruments.
“Common stock warrants turn in the most spectacular performance of any group of securities…. The speculative potentialities of common stock warrants are enormous…. With potential profits and potential losses so great it is a source of wonder that so little understanding of the nature of common stock warrants exists not only among the investing public who might be forgiven this sin, but even among the many professionals of the business upon whom the public depends for information and guidance.”
Sidney Fried’s observation in 1949 remains relevant today. Most investors and analysts do not take the time to understand the potential leverage — and the consequences — that warrants can bring to a portfolio.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at warrants from the trader’s perspective, compare them to call options and discuss when call options or warrants would be the most appropriate investment vehicle to accomplish a particular objective.
WARRANTS VS. OPTIONS
A warrant is a security issued by a company giving the holder the right, but not the obligation, to acquire the underlying company’s shares at a specific price. That right expires on a specific date in the future. Generally, warrants are issued in connection with a stock or a bond offering. Frequently, they are done so in the context of an “equity kicker” or “sweetener.” The reason a company will issue a warrant is simple; think of it as additional incentive to get the deal done.
There is an obvious similarity to call options. The two instruments are closely related. The major difference is that a call option is created in the marketplace by investors and not issued by a company. Typically, options trade on designated options exchanges, such as the Chicago Board Options Exchange. Warrants will trade on a traditional stock exchange, such as the New York Stock Exchange or the Toronto Stock Exchange, just like their common shares.
Warrants first came about in the 1920s. At one time, even AT&T had warrants trading, as well as some of the big company names of the past and present: Tenneco, Avco, Holiday Inn, International Tel & Tel, Lowes, General Tire & Rubber, Mack Trucks and many more.
Fast forward to today, and you will discover that many warrants are issued on the shares of natural resource companies, an area in which many traders have a special interest because of the commodity boom. Many companies that offer warrants trading are involved in the extraction and processing of gold, silver, oil and gas, uranium, coal, zinc and copper.
To name a few, you will find Goldcorp, Kinross and Silver Wheaton with warrants trading, as well as call options.
The first step in warrant trading is selecting the right underlying company. This is of utmost importance because if the company does not execute on its business plan and the common shares do not rise, holders of either call options or warrants will not make money. Each investor must perform his or her own due diligence on companies that are attractive for investment.
The next consideration is time horizon. Once a viable company is selected, the decision to purchase a warrant or a call option will depend on the timeframe of the trader’s goals. While traditional call options generally have a life of between 30 days and one year, warrants often are issued with five years or more until expiration. Thus, short-term traders may see more opportunity in call options, while longer-term investors may be more comfortable with the several years until expiration that warrants provide. This additional time can be a great asset in the volatile markets we have experienced over the last two years.
Whether the investor is considering call options or warrants, the underlying reason is basically the same: increased leverage. Both warrants and options offer additional leverage over purchasing a stock outright. Of course, as with all forms of leverage, the leverage afforded by warrants cuts both ways.
When it comes to warrants, traders can expect to achieve at least a two-to-one leverage over purchasing the common shares; this is reasonable with most of the warrants currently trading. What this means is if you believe the common shares will rise 100%, then the warrants have the potential to increase by at least 200%.
One stock that has attracted a lot of attention in the mining sector is Agnico-Eagle Mines. Focused on gold, with operations in Canada, Finland and Mexico — and additional development activities in the United States — Agnico-Eagle Mines benefits from significant international exposure. Its LaRonde Mine in Quebec is Canada’s largest operating gold mine, measured by reserves. Not surprisingly, the company’s stock has risen significantly along with the price of gold, and its warrants have been similarly popular.
The company trades under the symbol AEM on the NYSE, as well as the TSX. For several years, AEM had a long-term warrant trading, but it was overlooked by most investors and analysts. The warrant traded under the symbol AEMLW in the OTC market.
To see how the leverage of this particular warrant can amplify returns, go back to 2006-07. Each warrant entitled the owner to purchase one share of Agnico-Eagle common stock at $19 until Nov. 14, 2007. By then, the warrant had been trading for several years.
From the stock’s low on June 13, 2006, to the close on Oct. 12, 2007, it rose from $26.02 to $54.68, a rise of 110%. The warrant rose from $10.86 to $35.75, for an increase of 329%, providing the warrant trader with three-to-one leverage over owning the common stock. Investors privy to the warrants trading on Agnico-Eagle made an incredible gain on these warrants in a rather short period of time. Of course, if an investor had purchased call options during this period of time, they also would have made a significant profit.
A few other examples of warrants with great leverage returns in the last few years are Kimber Resources (6.1-to-1 leverage), Peru Copper (10.4-to-1 leverage) and Blue Pearl Mining (2.8-to-1 leverage).
Sometimes, it’s argued that warrants have a dilutive affect on the company’s capital structure and that investors should avoid them. From an accounting standpoint, the warrant is already issued. It is already trading on the market, and its effects are already in place. Interested investors are only taking advantage (if they desire to do so) of the leverage opportunities that the warrant furnishes.
In addition to speculative opportunities, warrants also provide hedging benefits. When combined with both put and call options, warrants also can be used to construct some rather interesting, sophisticated and potentially profitable trading strategies.
Dudley Pierce Baker lives in Ajijic, Mexico. He has a background in accounting and is the owner and editor of CommonStockWarrants.com. He can be contacted at support@CommonStockWarrants.com.`
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