Category Archives: General

Latitude Uranium merger arbitrage

As someone reminded me today on Twitter, my blog hasn’t been very active recently, so I thought I change that a little bit with a new merger arbitrage idea to start off the new year. Last month Atha Energy (CNSX:SASK) announced that it would combine in a three-way merger with Latitude Uranium (CNSX:LUR) and 92 Energy (ASX:92E) to “create a leading uranium exploration company” (not my words). While I’m not exactly a fan of exploration stage mining companies it’s a merger that piqued my interest. It is semi-complicated with three small companies combining of which two are listed on an obscure stock exchange in Canada and the third in Australia to add a cross-border element to the mix.

As of this moment of writing the spread between Atha Energy and Latitude Uranium stands at 30.90%, which I think is excessively high for a merger that should face no real hurdles in closing. Part of the reason for the large spread is presumably the fact that the stock is trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange, and is not tradable for many people. You probably need an account with a Canadian brokerage firm, and for US-based investors there might be additional complications since these companies could potentially be considered PFICs.

Interactive Brokers for example does not support opening positions, although you can sell (but not short) shares that are listed there. I initially wrote here that the listing location idea was supported by the 92 Energy merger having a lower spread, but a reader pointed out my bad math on that one. The spread on the 92 Energy merger is actually even bigger at 48%! The Latitude Uranium acquisition is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2024 while 92 Energy is scheduled to close early in the second quarter. So if you have an unhedged long position you might see the share price of Atha Energy cratering once all the former Latitude Uranium shares hit the market. But the bigger spread might be enough compensation for that risk. Didn’t buy a position in this part of the deal, but might also be interesting.

So we get a big spread, but it is certainly not without risks. If you enter the trade unhedged you might be exposed to wild price swings given the underlying type of business, and the possible selling pressure when the deal is done might collapse the spread before you can exit. As of this moment my broker is quoting a borrow fee of 7.75% for Atha Energy, which is actually quite doable given the large spread and the short expected timeline to deal completion. But there are no guarantees that borrow will remain available or that the borrow rate doesn’t spike, and you will need a lot of margin space to set-up this trade. The latter is definitely a problem for me, so I decided to enter the position unhedged. I realize that the outcome of this trade might be all over the place, but hopefully the large spread is isolating me from negative outcomes.

Overview from the transaction presentation


Author is long Latitude Uranium

Always worry about your edge

I was reading “Stop worrying about your edge” on the excellent Turtles all the way down! blog, and couldn’t resist writing the oppositely titled post. Not because I disagree with the post. Maybe on some details, but I think he makes some good points. But the truth is that every intelligent sounding investment quote breaks down at some level. People for example love to quote Buffett – and you could certainly catch me doing it from time to time – but it is important to realize that nothing is universally true. Or some types of advice sound good, but simply don’t work in real-life.

Consider the famous poker quote, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” Hard to disagree with, right? But the thing is, that usually, the sucker is also convinced that he has spotted some players that he can beat. Perhaps he has seen some excellent pro’s involved in a big bluf, and thinks that they are spewing money away. He is wrong of course, but without the knowledge to recognize what is going on, he doesn’t have the tools to evaluate his own position at the table. And it is not like you need to be a total fool to not recognize your own place at the table. Many mediocre poker professionals – that objectively are miles ahead of the total amateur – can’t recognize better playing professionals. Their perspective is limited to what they know, and from their vantage point, the better players seem to be making errors. So, in reality, usually only the best poker players at the table can accurately estimate the skill level of everyone else. However, merely advising people to be one of the best players at the table is not a practical tip.

But to circle back to worrying about having an edge in investing. I agree that it is incredible hard to know if you have an edge in a specific investment or in investing in general. And because it is hard to know, you should always be worried that you don’t have an edge. I think this idea should be constantly on the back of your mind, shaping your investment strategy. Everything you do should be with the assumption that you could have no edge.

So, how can you invest while holding that belief? I personally think that the following three guidelines can keep you out of trouble.

  1. Diversify: Never bet big on a single name. If you invest in a sufficiently big basket of random names your expected return should be close to the expected return of the market. If you lack an edge, this approach minimizes potential harm from an expected value perspective.
  2. Minimize costs: When your investments have a neutral expected value compared to the market, the main source of underperformance comes from frictional costs associated with your strategy. Therefore, make sure you avoid incurring excessive trading fees or unnecessarily high taxes.
  3. Stay away from risky corners: Acquiring an edge is difficult, but losing money is easy. Avoid stocks with high short interest and/or no borrow, as they are almost certain to decline. Also, be cautious with recent IPOs, SPACs, or any other investment fads.

There will be times to break the guidelines above, but I think this should be a healthy starting point for most investors. I will not claim this would have saved every investor who blew up in recent times, but it would probably have come close. The downside is, of course, that you are also not getting lucky by betting it all on one stock and making it big. To actually make money like this, you absolutely need a  consistent edge. Bet after bet. Stock after stock. You will not know in advance if you have an edge, but after enough years, you should get an idea.

So you heard it. Stop worrying about your edge, but also, always worry about your edge!

Switch from Feedburner to

At the end of 2021 Google decided to put Feedburner in maintenance mode which caused the email subscription feature to stop working. After getting some comments from readers I decided to fix this issue, and after a quick look on Google I ended up at as Feedburner replacement. All existing e-mail subscribers have been migrated to, and should once again receive e-mail updates when new content is posted. Besides offering a RSS-feed with e-mail subscriptions there are now some additional features available as well such as the option to use filters or a Chrome extension for notifications. Let me know in the comments if everything is now working again as expected.

Feedburner is discontinuing email subscriptions

For the followers of the blog that keep track of new posts using the email subscription feature I have bad news. The email updates are powered by Google Feedburner, and Google has decided to put this product in maintenance mode which means that only core functionally will remain operational. As you might have guessed by now, email updates are not a core feature and somewhere next month Google will discontinue email subscriptions. If you want to keep track of new posts you can use the RSS-feed and subscribe in a tool like Feedly (I personally think this is a great way to keep track of various blogs), or follow me on Twitter (but easy to miss a link to a new post between all the other content that gets posted daily). Or you can just take the old fashioned route, and visit the once in a while to see what’s new.

Some comments on Aswath Damodaran’s Aramco post

I suspect that many readers of this blog also follow the blog of Aswath Damodaran, and if they don’t, I would recommend doing so. Damodaran is a Professor of Finance at the Stern School of Business and he often posts how he would approach valuing high-profile stocks such as Tesla or Uber. It’s very unlikely I would ever be interested in investing one of those companies, but his valuation methodology is pretty solid and his posts are educational. I think having a good grasp on the fundamentals of valuing a company is very important, even when most of the time you revert to simple back of the napkin valuations using a P/E multiple (which I do).

However, I disagree strongly with his approach in his latest post about how to incorporate truncation risk in the valuation of Aramco. To quickly recap Damodaran point of view, a DCF valuation is only suitable for going concerns because you assume cash flows are continuing long-term and potentially indefinitely. Because of that you can’t properly model survival risk where a company might cease to exist after a certain point in time. In the case of Amerco it could be a possible regime change at some point in time to fundamentally change the value of the business going forward. But it’s also very relevant in startups that have a high probability of not making it past the first few years. His suggested solution is to value the company as a going concern in one scenario, value it with a regime change in a second scenario, put some probabilities on the two scenarios and call it a day.

Aramco equity valuation model incorporating regime change risk, source: Aswath Damodaran

I think there are two problems with his post:

  1. This approach doesn’t work well because it doesn’t fit reality
  2. A DCF is perfectly capable of incorporating truncation risk

The reason that this methodology is flawed is because it doesn’t incorporate the timing of the potential event. It matters a whole lot if the regime change is in the next year, or if it happens in 30 years time. So what does a 20% probability mean? Is that a 20% probability of regime change happening this year? the next 5 years? the next 50 years? And because that question isn’t answered, you also can’t really do a equity valuation in the regime change scenario. What he is doing I think is just taking the going concern equity valuation, and reducing it by 50% in the regime change scenario to account for higher taxes and royalties. That implicitly assumes that the regime change will happen on day one, which is of course highly unlikely and unrealistic.

A better model would be to assume that there is a small probability of a regime change every single year. That sounds complicated, but luckily, that’s exactly what we can model in a DCF by increasing the discount rate. If you would for example assume a 1% probability that there is a regime change in a given year you can simply increase your discount rate by 1%. It’s that easy! A one percent chance for 10 years in a row would imply a probability of regime change of 9.56% during that period and 39.5% during a 50 year period.

Note that by increasing the discount rate by one percent in case of a regime change we are assuming that the residual value is zero. If you think there is a 1% probability with 50% residual value we should increase the discount rate by just 0.5%. And a second small note, if you want to do things mathematically correct, you can’t simply add probabilities. In the example below you can see how that becomes especially relevant when probabilities become large.

If you want you can also easily change the model to customize probabilities of failure for each time period. Perhaps you have the view that there is in the next five years a higher chance of regime change, followed by a period of lower probabilities. But it’s probably more useful when thinking about a startup. The probability of failure is presumably very high in the first few years while lower in subsequent year.

Let’s imagine a project that will costs 10 million to start and 10 million more at the end of the first two years, and will produce 100 million at the end of year 3 and 4. In the first two years there is a 25% probability of failure. We could (and should!) model that as following:

Hypothetical cash flow model with high risk of failure in first two years

Note that the discount rate is calculated by taking: (1 + "equity risk") / (1 - "truncation risk") - 1 and the NPV factor is the factor of the previous year multiplied by 1 / (1 + "discount rate") of the current year. That way you carry a risk of total failure that you introduced in the early years forward for the calculations of the NPV of later years1.

The great thing about this model is that it matches actual reality. If you have a failure in the first year you don’t have to put more cash in the project, that’s why the net present value of the cash outlays at the end of year one and two are severely discounted. And of course, the same is true about the payoff in year 3 and 4 because there is a high probability that the project will never get to that point. If you would want to model this using Damodaran’s approach you would be in big trouble, because one single failure scenario can’t easily account for the fact that failure can occur at different times, and that the impact on the net present value depends on the timing.

Concluding remarks

Let me know in the comments if you found this post useful, otherwise I will be back to posting the occasional merger with a contingent value right ;). And of course, perhaps you want to point out that I’m completely wrong. It’s totally possible that I don’t know things better than someone who is a professor of Finance.


No intention to ever initiate a position in Aramco

1. A previous version of this post was using the wrong formula to calculate the discount factor and the combined discount rate. Thanks to a reader in the comments this has now been corrected.