BDC Update: Ares Capital
9 min read

BDC Update: Ares Capital

Ares Capital's IVQ 2022 results and its positive outlook for 2023 give us no reason to alter our dividend projections or Target Price.
BDC Update: Ares Capital

February 7, 2023

Short & To The Point

We've just reviewed Ares Capital's (ARCC) IVQ 2022 earnings press release, and Investor Presentation and listened to the conference call and are glad to report our naked optimism about the BDC's earnings potential; credit quality, and dividend-paying capacity - reflected in our earlier updates - is being borne out.

Not Yet

Admittedly, management did not increase the regular dividend in IQ 2023 nor announced any special payout as yet. However, the amount of undistributed taxable income is huge - 2.5x its quarterly distribution - and will eventually find its way into shareholders' pockets. In the interim, conditions are ideal for leaving those funds to make profits in a lender-friendly environment.

Standing Firm

As a result, we're not making any changes to either our 5-years of dividend projections or to our terminal multiple, which leaves the Target Price for ARCC at $27.00. See the Expected Return Table. At the close today, the stock price was $20.04, up by 2.2% on investor satisfaction with the latest results. The prospective total return over 5 years is now 89% or 17.9% per annum. The 2023 expected yield is 11.5%. That's still good value for a new investor, but below the BDC average and lower than the upside expected back at the time of our last update.

October 27, 2022

Ares Capital has posted excellent IIIQ 2022 results and the future is even brighter. We've had to recast our projections skyward.


Ares Capital (ARCC) has kicked off IIIQ 2022 BDC earnings season with a bang. Core EPS was $0.50, higher than consensus of $0.49, and better than the quarter before at $0.46. Even more impressively the "regular" quarterly distribution was increased by 12% to $0.48. This is the third increase in 2022. Along with the "specials" the BDC has been paying out, ARCC's total payout to shareholders in this calendar year to $1.8700. All this, and much more, was discussed in the BDC Reporter when we annotated the conference call of the BDC.


Given that management proposes to discuss what's next in dividend terms when IVQ 2022 results are published in early 2023, that suggests $1.8700 is the final number for this year. That's 15% higher than in 2021. Check out the Expected Return Table which shows annual distributions for ARCC - and every other BDC - from 2019 on.

Looking Forward

By no means is ARCC done with the earnings and dividend increases, putting pressure on us to come up with new estimates for the years ahead through 2027. Let's explain our maths: ARCC is achieving Core EPS of $0.50 quarterly ($2.00 annualized) but admitted the number would have been $0.54 if the impact of higher rates had occurred throughout the whole period.

Moreover, for every 100 basis point increase in the Fed Funds rate after September,  ARCC expects to earn an additional $0.27 per share annually. We are assuming a 150 basis point increase by early 2023, or another $0.40. (Not figured in is any gain from higher spreads on new loans, nor any additional interest expense as small amounts of fixed rate debt gets refinanced). On paper that would take ARCC's earnings per share at some pro-forma date in the future to $2.56.


Then there's what we estimate might be as much as $1.50 per share in undistributed taxable income, to be gradually leaked out to shareholders as per the BDC's parsimonious strategy.  For these purposes, we expect ARCC will pay out 50% of this pile of income every year for the next 5 years.

Adding Up

The analyst consensus for EPS in 2023 is now $2.16, which is probably low. We project EPS will be at least $2.30. Add to that the assumed undistributed income "special" of $0.15, and you've got a total payout of $2.4500. That's 31% higher than the already high 2022 level! From 2024 on, we're assuming EPS drops back to the adjusted IIIQ 2022 level, or $2.1600. We add the $0.15 special and we're at $2.3100, down from the 2023 heights, but still 24% above the 2022 level.


We know the numbers seem fantastical. It's partly because we've been living in a zero interest rate, very low inflation, environment for so many years. We also admit there probably should be a deduction for higher debt loss costs. We've assumed 5% of income-producing assets will be written off, resulting in ($0.15) per share in EPS losses per year. We've applied this from 2023 through 2027, bringing the projection to $2.3000 in 2023 and $2.1600 from 2024-2027. The Expected Return Table has been updated accordingly.

High Expectations

This brings the Target Price up to $27.00, a considerable jump over the current level.  On the other hand, we are presuming a big jump in EPS and distributions, amidst a modest level of credit losses (which is management's own view). The "total return" comes to 109% or 21.7% per annum. That's not the highest return out there, as you'd imagine for a BDC that is trading at a slight premium to book. Still, it's better than the historic 5-year ARCC return of 89%. (If ARCC's investors should lose their nerve in the future and drop its price back to its $16.53 52-week low, the total return goes to an even more enthralling 149%).

Keeping Keeping On

This BDC has been a perennial winner - managing to increase its NAV Per Share over a long history - and leading the industry in a host of ways. Our projections suggest the next 5 years should continue this tradition for investors.

Credit Afterword

By the way, we are spending a great deal of time poring over all underperforming companies in the portfolio - many updated in our sister publication the BDC Credit Reporter. Our conclusion so far: ARCC is not immune to making some material credit mistakes, but in as large and "granular" portfolios as theirs, the impact is barely felt. Moreover, its above-average level of equity stakes means realized gains in the future - when the world settles down - may end up offsetting some - or all - the loans that are written off. That means our deductions for income lost to bad debt may be overly conservative. We shall see.  

August 23, 2022

Getting To Grips

This is a delayed update for Ares Capital (SARCC) following the IIQ 2022 earnings conference call which we annotated. In a nutshell, the BDC made clear what most observers had already intimated: earnings and dividends are likely to move up higher than we'd previously anticipated. The cause: higher reference rates thanks to the Fed and - to a much lesser degree - higher spreads on new loans.

Ever Higher

The latest analyst consensus is for ARCC to achieve Net Investment Income Per Share (NIIPS or EPS) of $1.86 in 2022 and $2.04 in 2023. Just 90 days ago, the projection was for $1.80 and $1.91 respectively. That's a 3% increase in 2022 and 7% in 2024.


ARCC itself has already reacted - especially as the undistributed taxable earnings the the BDC has accumulated has become embarrassingly high at $1.44 per share - by increasing its regular distribution for the IIIQ 2022 to $0.43, along with a previously announced $0.03 "special". We now project the total payout for this year will be $1.84 ($1.80 previously), with $1.36 already in the bag. For 2023, we are projecting distributions jump to $1.92. That would be a new all-time annual record, but still assumes EPS to dividend coverage of 106%.

Same Old

We project the same distribution of $1.92 thereafter through 2026 as slightly lower rates and potential credit losses, not to mention a BDC at maximum leverage keeps a lid on profits and payouts. No change was made in our terminal multiple of 14.0x, keeping the Target Price for ARCC at $26.88. The principal change is that the yield on ARCC's stock - trading at $20.00 at the open - is now 9.6%, based on our 2023 payout prediction.

Bottom Line

Our 5 year model, using that $20.00 price, shows ARCC generating a "total return" of 82%, or 16.4% per annum. That's similar to the Seeking Alpha calculated 5 year total historic return of 98%.  Given that ARCC is trading at a premium to net book value per share and not far from its 52 week high of $23.00, this projected return seems high, but reflects how the BDC market has not yet fully adjusted to the prospect of higher earnings.

February 9, 2022: Bravo to market leader Ares Capital (ARCC), which reported both record earnings for 2021 and its highest ever NAV Per Share. In the BDC Reporter, we annotated the latest conference call transcript, which discussed those developments and much more.

Higher Dividend Announced

As important for our purposes, ARCC made an important dividend change: raising the quarterly payout to $0.42 from $0.41 (increased midway just last year) and adding $0.12 per share in special distributions, to be paid out every 3 months through this year. At a stroke, the annual dividend payout for 2022 has been set at $1.80, even if no further addition is made later in the year. That's higher than the $1.62 paid out in 2021 and the $1.60 in 2020 and 2019.  It's also higher than we had anticipated in our model, even though we'd been predicting an increase to $0.42 quarterly in the last two quarters of this year, for a total annual payout of $1.66.

More Increases Ahead ?

With this latest development - and given that ARCC's earnings are trending so high - we've increased our 5 year projection for distributions. After $1.80 in 2022, we are penciling in a $0.02 annual increase for every year through 2026, ending at $1.88.  Given that the analysts - who always seem to aim too low when making their earnings predictions where ARCC is concerned - are projecting Core EPS in 2022 of just $1.85,  our projection seems "conservative".


Admittedly, ARCC has just come off an exceptional year of investment activity which management was downplaying the likelihood of repeating. Furthermore, debt to equity at year end (before the recent secondary) is very close to target leverage and pressure on spreads continues to be a problem. Nonetheless, the way forward looks promising for ARCC, both in terms of recurring income but also for booking realized gains along the way.

Same As Before

We are maintaining our exit multiple at 14.00x the year 5 distribution as before. (That's not the highest multiple in the BDC sector and an argument could be made that ARCC deserves an even higher number). Today the BDC traded at a 52 week high and 12.8x its 2022 distribution. We expect that could go higher given the positive outlook for the business and with the prospect of a 10% or greater increase in the distribution should LIBOR increase by 2.00% or more by 2023.

Our target price has been increased to $26.88, 20% above the closing price for the stock on Wednesday February 9, 2022 of $22.32. According to our model, the likely 5 year return on those new metrics is 59%, or 11.8% per annum. That's below our Best Ideas threshold, which typically involve a total gain of 75% or more. Still, for a BDC that has just been at a 52 week high that's a superior return and promises an immediate "safe" yield of 8.1%. We may not be buying more shares in ARCC at this elevated price and after this "feel-good" announcement, but we won't be selling off what we already own with such a significant price appreciation possibility and a decent yield from a tried and true BDC veteran.

January 16, 2022: As covered in the BDC Reporter, Ares Capital (ARCC) reached a new 52 week high of $22.35, just before issuing new shares at a price of $21.40- also a record price. Of course, there was probably some "juicing" of ARCC's price in advance of the secondary, but the secondary price was 13.2x the $1.62 in distributions the BDC paid out in 2021, and 13.0x the annualized running rate of the latest $0.41 dividend.  This is one of our favorite valuation metrics, which we use to project the terminal multiple to be used in our 5 year financial model.

Higher Terminal

We've decided to up ARCC's terminal multiple to 14.0x, from 13.25x, reflecting both the market's growing appreciation of the BDC and the increasing value of the ARCC franchise in large cap LBO lending. The BDC has several well heeled rivals including BXSL, ORCC and FSK, but none match ARCC's historical track record, regularly increasing NAV Per Share, well constructed financing and access to the major sponsor groups.

Elevated Target

As a result, our Target Price has increased from $23.06 to $24.36, or 6%. With ARCC trading - just a few days after the secondary and two months away from the next distribution - at $21.44, we'll need to see a 14% price increase to reach the Target Price. In the model, we also assume regular dividend increases of $0.02 per annum over 5 years, bringing the running rate annual distribution from $1.64 currently to $1.74 in 2026. Management jealously retains more of its earnings than most BDCs - partly to fund the higher distribution liability brought on by secondaries such as the latest one - and partly out of an excess of caution and to be able to boast about higher NAV Per Share. Still, we think BDC tax rules on distributions will cause the dividend to be upped, even if modestly.

Analyst View

By the way, the analyst earnings consensus (Core EPS - to use the number ARCC prefers) is for $1.84 in 2022, well above the dividend we are projecting. Moreover, ARCC is already estimating IVQ 2021 Core EPS will be in a range of $0.56 - $0.58. Annualize that midpoint and ARCC's pro-forma current Core EPS is $2.28...For the moment - and before we get into any recalculations if short term interest rates shoot up more than 1.0% - we are confident in our 5 year outlook.