Friday, September 17, 2010

Doubling down: Sallie Mae senior debt

With the sell off of Student Loan Corp from Citigroup to Discover, the market is finding undervalued assets in private student loans. Sallie Mae, as a third party involved in the deal, purchased a portfolio of $28B portfolio of FFELP, Federal backed student loans, from Student Loan Corp to service. This makes SLM, the 800 pound gorilla, even bigger in the FFELP marketplace. Sallie Mae will be able to use this leverage to support prices and manage supply in this market niche.

"While Sallie Mae will no longer originate FFELP loans, it will still be able to manage its existing $150 billion FFELP portfolio, which generated about $800 million in cash flow in the first quarter, according to analysts." (1)

Sallie Mae has bigger problems. The low interest rate environment hurts earnings because much of the their portfolio floats in a spread to treasuries. Thus the longer the Fed keeps interest rates low the lower the revenue base from the portfolio.

But the real concern is the outstanding debt and whether Sallie Mae will be able to continue to pay it's debt load. Bondholders like us want to know that regardless of the outcome with the company, we are paid what we are owed. A key analyst sees a margin of safety in the current value of the bonds, which are selling at 75cents on the USD.

"For bondholders, the key issue is not the viability of Sallie Mae's business model but the fact that its assets, conservatively valued, more than cover its $27 billion of unsecured borrowings, according to CreditSights. If the company did nothing to restructure, it would have enough value in its current book of business to service its debt, CreditSights analyst Adam Steer said in an interview." (1)

So assuming bonds will pay out at par there is a 25% margin of safety while accumulating a 8% return on investment. Excellent risk reward ratio to the author.

Long SLM again at $19.1 (NYSE: JSM)

(1) Reuters, July 2010


Lockstep said...

This is a very solid investment. Long and strong.


Sally may had a very bad year.