AMC Networks (AMCX) Purchase of BBC Stake Will Not Affect Corp. Rating - Moody's Oct 24, 2014 02:34PM

Moody's Investors Service said that AMC Networks' (Nasdaq: AMCX) ("AMC") announcement to acquire a 49.9% ownership interest in BBC America, will not impact its Ba3 Corporate Family rating, Ba3-PD Probability of Default rating, SGL-2 Speculative Grade Liquidity rating or the positive outlook. BBC America is a cable television network and is a wholly owned subsidiary of The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a U.K. based public service broadcaster.

AMC will pay $200 million for the transaction and will fund it with cash on hand, which stood at $284 million at 06/30/2014. Since the company is using cash on its balance sheet to execute the deal and BBC America will be neutral to mildly positive to leverage, we anticipate debt-to-EBITDA leverage won't materially change from its pre-acquisition level. Even though BBC will continue to hold a majority stake in the joint venture, AMC will have significant influence over the financial and operating policies of BBC America, including affiliate and advertising sales, and accordingly will consolidate the joint venture's financial statements. BBC America will be operated as a separate channel within AMC's portfolio of channels, which include AMC, IFC, WE tv, and SundanceTV. BBC America and AMC have worked together in the past and produced a series of hit original shows, including drama Top of the Lake and The Honourable Woman and the upcoming One Child. A partnership of the two cable networks will allow them to leverage their content catalog as well as their distribution and advertising platforms. The deal will also strengthen bargaining power in their carriage fee negotiations with cable and satellite operators amidst a wave of consolidation in the MVPD marketplace.

Pro forma leverage of 4.8x as of 06/30/2014 (incorporating Moody's standard adjustments and pro forma for Chellomedia's acquisition) is within our stated expectation that leverage will be maintained below 5.75x but is above the 3.5x trigger required for an upgrade. As the company will use a significant portion of cash on hand to fund the acquisition, we believe that debt reduction will take longer than previously envisaged but the company will continue to delever through growth in EBITDA. However, at this point, we are not taking any actions with regards to AMC's ratings or outlook as we believe that management is committed to a higher rating and will use free cash flow to reduce borrowings under the company's revolving credit facility, such that leverage will decline to the 3.5x range within the next 12 to 24 months. Further, we expect that AMC will continue to deliver strong operating performance and grow its EBITDA, both through organic operations and tuck-in acquisitions. We believe that AMC will continue to be prudent in its capital allocation, using excess cash to reduce debt and support long-term revenue growth and diversification of its business through strategic investments such as the BBC America transaction.


KLA-Tencor (KLAC) Ratings Downgraded to 'BBB' at S&P Oct 24, 2014 01:54PM

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said it lowered its corporate credit rating on Milpitas, Calif.-based KLA-Tencor (Nasdaq: KLAC) to 'BBB' from 'BBB+'. The outlook is stable.

At the same time, we lowered our issue-level rating on the company's $750 million senior unsecured notes due 2018 to 'BBB' from 'BBB+'.

"The downgrade reflects KLA-Tencor's announced $4 billion shareholder return program, which will be partially financed with $2.5 billion of incremental debt, leading to debt leverage rising to 1.5x over the next two years," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst David Tsui.

Despite the higher debt leverage level, and the ongoing consolidation in the semiconductor capital equipment industry, we expect the company to maintain a financial policy that will meet its growth and shareholder return objectives while keeping adjusted leverage under 3x.

The rating on KLA-Tencor reflects our view of the company's leading position in the semiconductor metrology and inspection equipment industry, high barriers to entry, and long-term customer relationships. However, the company operates in an industry with significant inherent industry cyclicality and risks of technology obsolescence and significant customer concentration, partly offsetting those advantages. We revised our view of the company's financial risk profile to "intermediate" from "modest," reflecting pro forma debt leverage rising to 1.5x from a current net cash position as a result of the proposed partially debt-financed shareholder return program.

The stable outlook reflects our view that the company will be able to maintain its strong market position in the process control and yield management segments of the semiconductor capital equipment industry, while generating a FFO-to-debt ratio of above 30% and maintaining debt leverage below 3x.

We could lower our ratings on the company if a pronounced industry contraction hampers its business performance, leading to a reduction in EBITDA and cash flow generation such that adjusted leverage exceeds 3x on a sustained basis or the FFO-to-debt ratio drops below 30%. We could also lower our ratings on KLA-Tencor if it pursues a more aggressive financial policy, whether through debt-financed acquisitions or shareholder returns, leading to the same leverage and FFO-to-debt ratio thresholds.

An upgrade is unlikely in the intermediate term, given our expectation of modest deleveraging over the next two years and that the company will maintain the current scale and scope of its business.


Fitch Raises Delta Air Lines' (DAL) IDR to 'BB'; Notes Recent Improvement in Performance, Combating Cost Inflation Oct 24, 2014 12:51PM

Fitch has upgraded Delta Air Lines' (NYSE: DAL) IDR to 'BB' from 'BB-'. Fitch has also upgraded Delta's Seattle project bonds to 'BB' from 'BB-', and affirmed the Delta 2007-1 class A pass-through trust certificates at 'BBB+'. The Rating Outlook is Positive.

The upgrade reflects significant improvements to Delta's balance sheet, continued solid operating performance, better than expected free cash flow (FCF), and successful efforts to combat operating cost inflation. The ratings are also supported by underlying improvements in the airline industry including consolidation among the legacy carriers and capacity constraints, which have led to an improved risk profile and better profitability for the industry as a whole. Fitch upgraded Delta's ratings to 'BB-'/Positive Outlook in February of this year citing the possibility for further upgrades contingent upon further leverage reduction and sustained or improved operating margins. Since that time Delta has met or exceeded those expectations.

The Positive Outlook reflects Fitch's view that Delta's credit profile will continue to improve over the intermediate term as the company continues to list debt reduction and addressing its underfunded pension plan as key priorities. Several of Delta's key credit metrics, including adjusted leverage and profitability, could potentially support higher ratings. Future upgrades are possible as Fitch's confidence grows in Delta's ability to maintain higher ratings through the inevitable cyclical and secular stresses inherent to the industry.

Delta's underfunded pension plan remains a key overhang on the ratings. The plans were underfunded by $10.1 billion at year-end 2013, leading to sizeable required annual cash contributions. These risks are partially mitigated by Delta's improving cash flow profile, which enables the company to fund its pension requirements while still generating positive FCF, and by Delta's efforts to make pension contributions over and above the required minimums. The international economic environment is also a concern with recent reports of softness in the Eurozone, China, and Brazil weighing on future demand for international travel. Other rating concerns primarily reflect risks inherent to the airline industry. Cyclicality, exposure to exogenous shocks (i.e. war, terrorism, etc.), capital intensity, and sensitivity to global oil prices remain constraining factors on the ratings.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Improving Credit Metrics: Credit metrics at Delta have continued to improve since Fitch upgraded Delta's rating to 'BB-' in March of this year. Fitch expects further improvement going forward supported by a solid domestic demand environment and by Delta's commitment to future debt reduction. Fitch calculates Delta's adjusted debt/EBITDAR at 2.5x as of Sept. 30, 2014, which is down from 3.2x at year-end 2013 and more than 9x at year-end 2009. Adjusted leverage is now notably lower than all other large North American competitors with the exception of Alaska Air Group, which Fitch rates 'BBB-'. Fitch believes that Delta's improved credit profile puts it in a much stronger position to weather future market downturns. Delta intends to further reduce debt in the near term, setting a net adjusted debt target of $5 billion to be reached by year-end 2016. Fitch views this goal as achievable given the company's capacity to produce FCF, and its track record of bringing down debt since the previous recession.

Managing Costs: The ratings upgrade is supported by Delta's successful efforts to manage its unit costs. Cost per available seat mile (CASM) ex-fuel was flat in the first three quarters of 2014 despite some pressure from salaries and related costs. Fitch expects non-fuel unit cost growth to remain modest in the low single-digit range through 2015. Delta's ongoing re-fleeting effort, aimed at replacing smaller inefficient regional jets with larger 76-seat regional jets (RJs) and 717s is expected to provide some unit cost benefit. Delta is also able to avoid heavy maintenance checks on the small RJs that it intends to retire in coming years. Fitch expects Delta's well-managed unit cost growth along with expectations for modest revenue per available seat mile (RASM) increases to create room for further operating margin expansion in 2015. Margin expansion could be material if fuel costs remain at the lower levels seen in recent weeks.

Fitch notes that the collective bargaining agreement with Delta's pilots becomes amendable in December 2015. Unit costs could face some pressure beyond 2015 depending on the outcome of those negotiations.

Strong FCF and Financial Flexibility: Delta's FCF generation has outpaced Fitch's expectations over the past year. Delta's healthy operating profits and manageable upcoming capex are expected to allow the company to produce sizeable FCFs in the $3 billion range in 2014 and 2015. Delta has now produced positive cash flow in each of the past five years, with cumulative FCF totaling more than $7.3 billion over that time period. The capacity to consistently produce positive FCF, particularly in the sustained high fuel-price environment of recent years, was a key consideration in the ratings upgrade.

Total liquidity as of Sept. 30, 2014 was equal to 16% of LTM revenue. Liquidity consists of $2.5 billion of cash & equivalents, $1.9 billion of short-term investments, and $2 billion of revolver availability. While some of Delta's airline peers have a higher liquidity balance on a cash/revenue basis, Fitch considers DAL's current liquidity balance to be more than adequate to fund near-term requirements, particularly since the company is consistently generating solid cash flow. Fitch's base case forecasts that DAL will generate cumulative cash flow from operations of more than $17 billion between 2014-2016, greatly exceeding anticipated capex, dividends, and debt maturities.

Manageable Cash Obligations: Fitch expects capital expenditures to total between $2 billion-$2.5 billion annually for the next several years, the majority of which will consist of new aircraft deliveries as Delta takes 737-900ERs, A330-300s starting in 2015 and A321s starting in 2016. Debt maturities range from $1 billion to $1.4 billion annually over the next three years. These obligations are manageable in light of Delta' expected cash generation.

Fitch also expects Delta to manage its dividend and share repurchase programs prudently. Delta announced a 50% dividend increase earlier in 2014, increasing the payout to roughly $300 million per year. Delta's board also authorized a $2 billion share repurchase program to be completed by year-end 2016. This comes after the company's May 2013 announcement that it would complete a $500 million repurchase program by the end of 2015. The program was completed nearly two years ahead of schedule, prompting a much larger repurchase allowance. Fitch does not consider shareholder returns at these levels to be constraints on the ratings given Delta's ability to generate cash. However shareholder-friendly activities could present a credit concern in the future if they were pursued at the expense of a healthy balance sheet.

Sizeable Pension Obligations: Delta's underfunded pension plans remain a concern. As of year-end 2013 Delta's defined benefit plans were underfunded by $10.1 billion. Fitch expects that figure to increase at year-end 2014 due to the prevailing interest rate environment. Risks posed by the underfunded plans are partially offset by Delta's efforts to make contributions over and above minimum required funding amounts and by the company's steady FCF generation. Delta contributed $250 million above the minimum required amount in the first half of 2014 bringing the total contribution to $905 million. The company anticipates making similar annual contributions going forward. Nevertheless, pensions are expected to remain a sizeable liability for the foreseeable future.

Strong Operating Results: Operating margins continue to expand, reflecting consistent RASM growth and managed cost pressures. Delta has maintained above-industry-average PRASM growth since fully completing its integration of Northwest with results driven by its formidable route network and an improving share of corporate travel. Fitch believes that operating margins have room for further expansion in coming years as Delta works to revamp its regional jet fleet and its operations in New York continue to mature. Fitch also expects continued modest macroeconomic growth in 2014 and 2015, positive trends in travel demand, and capacity discipline across the industry, which will foster a healthy operating environment. Business travel trends are particularly robust, which is important given Delta's increased focus on growing its share of lucrative corporate travelers.

Delta 2007-1 Pass Through Trust Certificates:
In its review of Delta's ratings, Fitch has also affirmed the ratings for the company's 2007-1 series class A certificates at 'BBB+'. Fitch's senior tranche EETC ratings are primarily based on a top-down analysis of the collateral, and were not affected by the upgrade to Delta's IDR. The ratings are supported by the structure's ability to withstand Fitch's 'BBB' level stress test while maintaining a loan-to-value (LTV) below 100%. This suggests that senior tranche holders would receive full recovery prior to a default, even in a harsh stress scenario. The ratings are also supported by low base LTVs through the life of the transaction, a moderate-to-high affirmation factor, and Delta's improving credit profile.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to a positive rating action include:

--EBITDAR margins approaching or exceeding 20% (at Sept. 30, 2014: 19.3%);
--Sustained FCF margins of 5% of revenue or higher;
--Continued progress towards reducing underfunded pension balance;
--Sustained funds from operations fixed-charge coverage ratio above 4x (at June 30, 2014: 3.65x).

A negative rating action is not anticipated at this time. However, future actions that may individually or collectively lead to a negative rating action include:

--Increased operating costs, either fuel or non-fuel related, that are not adequately matched by higher ticket prices leading to reduced operating margins;
--A substantial increase in dividends or stock repurchases that comes at the expense of a healthy balance sheet;
--An unexpected and protracted drop in the demand for air travel.

Fitch has taken the following rating actions:

Delta Air Lines, Inc
--IDR upgraded to 'BB' from 'BB-';
--$1.2 billion senior secured revolving credit facility due 2016 affirmed at 'BB+';
--$1.4 billion senior secured term loan due 2017 affirmed at 'BB+'.
--$450 million senior secured revolving credit facility due 2017 affirmed at 'BB+';
--$1.1 billion senior secured term loan B-1 due 2018 affirmed at 'BB+';
--$400 million senior secured term loan B-2 due 2016 affirmed at 'BB+'.

Delta Air Lines 2007-1 Pass-Through Trust:
--DAL 2007-1 class A certificates affirmed at 'BBB+'.

Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) of the Port of Seattle special facilities revenue refunding bonds, series 2012 (Delta Air Lines, Inc. Project):
--$66 million due April 1, 2030 upgraded to 'BB' from 'BB- '.


S&P Lowers Outlook on Goodrich Petroleum (GDP) to Negative Oct 24, 2014 11:32AM

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services today revised the rating outlook on Goodrich Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: GDP) to negative from stable. We also affirmed our 'B-' corporate credit rating on Goodrich and our 'CCC' issue-level rating on the company's senior unsecured debt. The recovery rating on this debt is '6', which indicates our expectation of negligible (0% to 10%) recovery to creditors if a default occurs. In addition, we affirmed our 'CCC-' issue-level rating on Goodrich's perpetual preferred stock.

We expect Goodrich's liquidity to deteriorate next year absent potential asset sales, a joint-venture arrangement, or a meaningful reduction in capital spending. Based on our view that the company will continue to pursue its strategy of delineating its large acreage position in the emerging Tuscaloosa Marine Shale (TMS) oil play, and that it will spend at least as much in the play next year as it plans to spend in 2014 ($200 million to $250 million), we believe the company will have to take steps to raise external capital over the next six months to preserve liquidity. Goodrich has indicated that it is evaluating noncore asset sales and it continues to pursue a joint-venture partner for the TMS; however, the recent drop in crude oil prices could slow the process. Alternatively, Goodrich could reduce its capital spending levels in 2015, but would risk losing some of its TMS acreage. "We have revised the rating outlook on Goodrich to negative to reflect a potential downgrade if the company does not take steps to improve liquidity, such as executing on asset sales, finding a joint-venture partner, or significantly reducing capital spending, over the next six months," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Carin Dehne-Kiley.

We view Goodrich's business risk profile as "vulnerable" given its small size, limited geographic diversity, and meaningful exposure to weak natural gas prices, although the company has been shifting to oil production over the past two years. At year-end 2013, Goodrich's proven reserve base was 452 billion cubic feet equivalent, 73% of which was natural gas and 39% of which was developed. The company has high exposure to dry gas, the pricing of which we expect to remain well below crude oil on an energy equivalent basis. Nearly 80% of the company's reserves are associated with dry gas plays in the Haynesville Shale and Cotton Valley sands (Louisiana/East Texas), with about 15% in the oil-focused Eagle Ford Shale (South Texas) and 5% in the emerging TMS (Mississippi/Louisiana).

The negative outlook reflects a potential downgrade if the company does not take steps to improve liquidity, such as executing on asset sales or reducing capital spending, over the next six months.

We could revise the outlook to stable if we expected sources of liquidity to exceed uses over the next 12 months, which would most likely occur if Goodrich can raise external capital through asset sales or a joint-venture, or by meaningfully reducing capital spending.


Fitch Upgrades Devon Energy's (DVN) IDR, Unsecured Ratings to 'BBB+', Outlook Stable Oct 23, 2014 12:27PM

Fitch Ratings has upgraded Devon Energy Corporation's (Devon) (NYSE DVN) long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) and senior unsecured debt ratings to 'BBB+' from 'BBB'. Additionally, Fitch has affirmed the company's short-term IDR and commercial paper ratings at 'F2'. The Rating Outlook for Devon is Stable. A full list of rating actions follows at the end of this release.

KEY RATING DRIVERS
The upgrade is driven by debt reduction that has occurred since the acquisition of GeoSouthern Energy Corporation in February of this year. Effectively, Devon has quickly returned credit metrics to previous levels prior to the primarily debt financed acquisition of GeoSouthern. Net proceeds from assets sales in the second and third quarter totaled approximately $4.5 billion after tax and have been used to reduce debt balances.

Devon's ratings reflect its large proven reserve base in North America, sizeable production levels balanced between liquids and natural gas and conservative financial policies. Fitch estimates that proven reserves currently total approximately 2.8 billion barrel of oil equivalent (boe) over multiple basins with over 60% of these reserves developed. Fitch expects 2015 production to average somewhere between 660,000 and 700,000 boe per day with 60% of the production being liquids. Balance sheet debt - post-redemption of $1.9 billion in senior notes due 2016 & 2017 - should be approximately $10 billion inclusive of approximately $1.7 billion in EnLink debt that is non-recourse to Devon. The redemption of Devon's senior notes due 2016 and 2017 is expected to occur on Nov. 13. After this occurs, Fitch estimated gross E&P debt to proven reserves and daily production should approximate $3/boe and $13,000 per boe per day, respectively.

With the acquisition of liquids focused GeoSouthern and divestures of certain natural gas assets, Devon's portfolio re-balancing is complete. The company's production mix the fourth quarter is estimated to be approximately 37% oil, 20% natural gas liquids (NGLs) and 43% natural gas. Oil production will likely grow more than 20% in 2015 primarily a result of operations in the Eagle Ford, Permian Basin and in Canada (Jackfish 3). Devon has hedged a majority of its oil production for 2015 at above current market prices. Natural gas production is primarily focused in the Barnett Shale which still accounts for approximately a third of the firm's overall production from a geographic prospective.

Free Cash Flow (FCF) & Expectations
Fitch believes that Devon will experience favorable cash flow trends given its liquids focused production mix, growth targets and completion of Jackfish 3. Further, Fitch expects Devon to balance its capital spending and dividends with internally generated cash flow and be FCF neutral to positive on a go forward basis. Consolidated debt/EBITDA is expected to be less than 1.5x in 2015.

LIQUIDITY
Liquidity is provided primarily by cash flow from operations, the company's undrawn $3 billion unsecured revolver due 2018 and its commercial paper program. Additionally, Fitch estimates Devon possesses approximately $1.7 billion in cash that is held outside the U.S. The company's revolver has only one material covenant which is a 65% maximum funded debt to capitalization. As of June 30, 2014, Devon's funded debt to capitalization was 23.4%. After the redemption of the senior notes on Nov. 13, maturities are $500 million of floating rate notes (FRNs) due December 2015, $350 million of FRNs due December 2016, $125 million in senior notes due July 2018 and $750 in senior notes million due December 2018.

RATING SENSITIVITIES:

Negative: Future developments that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action include:

--Leveraging acquisition;
--Material and sustained negative free cash flow that results in higher leverage;
--Levered share repurchases or major dividend increases;
--Material disappointments in reserve replacement or production levels.
Positive: Future developments that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating actions include:

--E&P debt/PD below $4.50 and debt/production below 12,000 boe/d on a sustained basis;
--Consistent strong reserve replacement with competitive finding and development costs;
--Demonstrating positive or neutral free cash flow after capex and dividends on a sustained basis.

Fitch has upgraded Devon as follows:

Devon Energy Corporation
--Long-term IDR to 'BBB+' from 'BBB';
--Senior unsecured notes to 'BBB+' from 'BBB;
--Senior unsecured credit facility to 'BBB+' from 'BBB.

Devon Financing Corporation U.L.C.
--Long-term IDR to 'BBB+' from 'BBB' and withdrawn;
--Senior unsecured notes to 'BBB+' from 'BBB'.

Ocean Energy
--Long-term IDR to 'BBB 'from 'BBB-';
--Senior unsecured notes to 'BBB' from 'BBB-'.

Fitch has affirmed the following ratings:

Devon Energy Corporation
--Short-term IDR at 'F2';
--Commercial paper at 'F2'.

The Rating Outlooks for Devon and Ocean are Stable.


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