Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Lottery Ticket on Coal - not by Shirley Jackson

I used to buy a lot of what traders call lottery tickets: trades with a low probability of success but extremely high potential payoffs. The best commodity trade I ever made was buying long dated $100 crude calls in 2008. It was about a 25 bagger. Thats what can happen with a lottery ticket.

I haven't found many of these recently, but I did one a few days ago. I bought the Peabody Coal (BTU) 6% coupon bond due in 2018 for 5 cents on the dollar. I went through a retail broker, since I trade so few bonds. If you have access to the wholesale market, I think you can get it even cheaper.

BTU looks like a clear bankruptcy situation. Moreover there is a lot of debt ahead of my bond on the seniority ladder. My argument is that the situation is so bad that the lenders may work with the company to extend and pretend. Even buying some time might make this trade work.

I don't really follow coal to closely, but it's hard to see much help from the commodity front. Natgas is still a better alternative for almost all electricity generation, and it keeps getting cheaper all the time. A hot summer might change that, if el Nino doesn't peter out. Longer term, I see slowly rising overall energy prices, but it's too long term to bail out BTU. So in all likelihood, I will lose 100% on the trade. That's what usually happens with lottery tickets.


  1. There also will be a new president that may take the foot off the throat of the coal industry.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Unlikely. There are lots of reasons to discourage coal that have nothing to do with the climate change debate/hysteria.

      The 'no regret' policy literature points out that efforts to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gasses will have beneficial impacts on health, watersheds and infrastructure.

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Comments are welcome, although I can't promise to answer every question.