What's in a name?
For investors who suddenly find their portfolios full of companies they don't recognize, a lot.
An unusually high number of businesses are beginning the new year with new identities. The reason? Jan. 1 marked the effective end of income trusts in Canada, and several of the former trusts are adopting new names to reflect their conversion to dividend-paying corporations.
Jazz Air Income Fund, for instance, is now Chorus Aviation while Fort Chicago Energy Partners the Calgary-based power and pipeline company, will henceforth be known as Veresen Inc. (The company says the new name was inspired by the Latin phrase vis vires, which means "with power, force, strength," and was coupled with "energy.")
Almost five years ago the federal government ruled that starting in 2011 income trusts would be taxed in the same manner as corporations. That new law wiped out the advantage enjoyed by trusts and the vast majority converted to corporations in 2010.
However, a sizable number of the affected trusts waited until year-end to make the switch, creating a sudden rush of new names on Canadian stock exchanges, as well as new stock tickers that correspond with the new titles.
The logic behind the changes varies from company to company. Consumers' Waterheater Income Fund, for one, had grown out of its old title.
"The name 'Consumers' Waterheater Income Fund' simply didn't reflect what we were doing," said chief financial officer Chris Cawston. The trust was created back when the company leased household items like water heaters and furnaces, but the business had evolved to cater to apartment and condo buildings with larger energy conservation appliances. Now the company goes by EnerCare Solutions
Mr. Cawston says the company could have re-branded itself under the EnerCare banner while still a trust, but decided to wait and do everything at once. "In our case, the change in name wasn't because of the change from a trust to a [corporation]" he said. "We already had that going on and we didn't want to confuse people by having too many other events."
The public may find other cases to be more baffling. While Jazz Air Income Fund is now Chorus Aviation at the corporate level, all of its airline operations will still go by names like Air Canada Jazz.
Some firms didn't wait for the year-end time crunch. Gaz Métro LP, which changed its name to Valener Inc. in September, gave itself lots of breathing room because unlike most conversions, its shift was a full corporate reorganization that saw it spun off from its parent corporation, Gaz Métro Inc.
A few trusts have escaped the conversion hoopla. Some were lucky enough to pick up tax pools when acquiring businesses that had racked up annual losses, but their time will come once these pools are used up. Others, such as real estate investment trusts, are exempted and can continue to pay the attractive yields that retail investors love because the new tax rules don't affect them.