The Canadian Brand-Drain Saga Continues

After one buyout firm came knocking last week, here comes another. Bell Canada seems to be the popular “girl” everyone wants to take to the prom. This time around, it is one very frustrated major holder that is in the spotlight — the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

Ontario Teachers have had a years-long relationship with the U.S. buyout firm Providence Equity Partners Inc. The fund manages US$21.0 billion in pooled money; meaning, there should be plenty of dough for a good old-fashioned buyout.

What will happen with Providence’s offer remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that it will be much harder for BCE Inc.’s CEO, Michael Sabia, to ignore this offer, as it comes at a substantial premium. Namely, Providence offered CDN$40.00 per share, while BCE is currently trading at about CDN$32.00 to CDN$33.00 per share.

Sure, Mr. Sabia has implemented some “structural” changes, but from a customer’s perspective (my own), I don’t think they are working. Just two days ago, I have relinquished the last Bell Canada service left in my home, the one I have held onto since I bought my first home, our telephone line. And I relinquished it to Bell’s worst nightmare — Rogers. Now, I’m fully aware that my (dis)loyalty is not going to bring about BCE Inc.’s ruination. However, I find it quite telling about the growing sentiment towards one of the last few “belles of the ball” left in Canada.

This brings me to my next, soul-searching type of question. If and when BCE Inc. “goes,” will there be anything left on the Canadian stock market scene worth holding in our portfolios? Well, there are still two home-grown and internationally known giants worth mentioning, Manulife Financial and Barrick Gold. Unfortunately, at this point, these two seem to be it.

Canada’s markets have lost so much already, the last on the list being Inco and Falconbridge. Not long before, we lost Molson and Labatt, as well as hotelier brands, Four Seasons and Fairmont. We even lost Hudson’s Bay Co., which is now owned by a private investor from South Carolina. Basically, excluding the BlackBerry, Canada no longer has a portfolio of world-known brands, let alone a portfolio of internationally known stocks! I’m sure we’ll soon be so boring that the rest of the world is more likely to think that even the BlackBerry is manufactured in the U.S. After all, how could a country so bland manufacture something so cool?

So, where to go and what to do? From the investor’s point of view, infrastructure investments are sorely needed, but Canadians want roads built, hospitals and schools upgraded, public transportation improved, all without increasing taxes. Choosing between a rock and a hard place was never easy.

Then there are commodity and energy stocks. The only problem with that is finding quality ones, which are still in growth stages, but already have revenue generating mines and/or oil and natural gas wells. Also, look into alternative energy and water stocks, as they are gaining momentum, not surprisingly.

Finally, Chinese businesses still have an appetite for our companies. When it comes to China, however, my advice is to follow the money inbound to Canada, rather than outbound to China. So, try to identify companies that have affiliations with China, but are operating out of Canada. I know, it’s a tough one, but doable.