* OSC settlement seen as big first step in Home Capital recovery
* Settlement smoothes path to cheaper financing
* Company must rebuild relationships with brokers
* Funding can enable company to revive mortgage originations
* Company still searching for permanent CEO/CFO
By Matt Scuffham and John Tilak
TORONTO, June 15 (Reuters) - After its near-collapse seven weeks ago, Canadian lender Home Capital Group Inc is taking steps towards recovery by agreeing to settle a regulatory investigation and lining up new funding.
The company plays an important role in Canada’s mortgage market, lending to borrowers who cannot get loans from the country’s biggest banks, such as self-employed workers and new immigrants.
Canada’s biggest non-bank lender must still overcome hurdles, though, including finding a permanent chief executive, rebuilding relationships with brokers, and winning back the support of depositors and borrowers.
On Wednesday the company reached a C$30.5 million ($22.3 million) settlement with the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), settled a class action lawsuit, and accepted responsibility for misleading investors about problems with its mortgage underwriting procedures.
The settlement is expected to help secure long-term financing at sustainable interest rates, investors and analysts said, after Home Capital’s board was bolstered by former Ontario Teachers Pension Plan head Claude Lamoureux and Alan Hibben, a former head of strategy at Royal Bank of Canada.
“This is a signal that the new board has taken control,” said Hari Panday, chief executive of investment banking firm PanVest Capital Corp. “They’ve decided they want the focus to be running the business and not fighting the regulators. The OSC (probe) was a huge hangover.”
Depositors have withdrawn 95 percent of funds from Home Capital’s high interest savings accounts since March 27, when the company terminated the employment of former Chief Executive Martin Reid. The company is still searching for Reid’s successor as well as a permanent chief financial officer.
The withdrawals accelerated after April 19, when the OSC, Canada’s biggest securities regulator, accused Home Capital of making misleading statements to investors about its mortgage underwriting business.
Maria-Gabriella Khoury, vice president of global financial institutions group at DBRS, said the company had taken “the first step to restore market confidence” with the OSC settlement and now needed to prioritize new funding.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Home Capital is in talks with a syndicate of banks, including some of Canada’s biggest lenders, to secure a loan of about C$2 billion ($1.5 billion), expected to be on more favorable terms than an existing loan.
The expensive bridge financing of C$2 billion provided by the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) came with an effective interest rate of 22.5 percent on the first C$1 billion drawn down, and affected the company’s ability to originate new mortgages since it cannot afford to lend money at lower rates than its cost of borrowing.
“Because of the high interest on that facility the company needs to secure something soon in order to a) still have a runway of liquidity and b) not have it eat away at its current revenue,” said Khoury.
Home Capital had said it was continuing to originate mortgages but had tightened its lending criteria. Negotiating new financing would enable it to relax that criteria, offer more mortgages and generate more profit, analysts say.
To meet its long-term funding needs, it must repair relationships with deposit brokers who have guided clients away from putting money in its Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GICs), a key source of funding.
“It will require meeting with brokers, launching a communication campaign and reaching out to people on both deposits and mortgages,” said Panday.
Those relationships will be a key focus for new CEO and CFO, who analysts say should have established relationships with the banks and both deposits and mortgage brokers.
David Cockfield, managing director at Northland Wealth Management,” said Home Capital had taken “a step in the right direction”.
“Settling with the OSC clears the horizon,” he said.
Shares in Home Capital closed up 12.7 percent on Thursday having closed up 7.4 percent on Wednesday. ($1 = 1.3268 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Matt Scuffham)