TEXT - Fitch cuts Ameren Energy Generating Co issuer default rating

Mon Jan 28, 2013 6:21pm GMT

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Jan 28 - Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of
Ameren Energy Generating Company (Genco) to 'CC' from 'B-' and removed the
Negative Rating Outlook. According to Fitch's ratings definitions, a 'CC' rating
implies a very high level of credit risk such that default of some kind appears
probable. 

Fitch has also downgraded Genco's senior unsecured debt ratings to 'CCC-/RR3' 
from 'B+/RR2', based on an updated recovery valuation. Fitch has affirmed the 
'BBB' IDR of Ameren Corp. (AEE), 'BBB+' IDR of Union Electric Company (UE), and 
the 'BBB-' IDR of Ameren Illinois Company (AIC). Fitch revised AIC's Outlook to 
Stable from Positive. The Rating Outlook for both AEE and UE remains Stable. A 
full list of rating actions follows at the end of this release. 

The downgrade to Genco's IDR reflects Fitch's belief that, absent parental 
support or access to external borrowings, the merchant's business model, in the 
long-run,, is not sustainable. 

The ratings recognize that Genco's parent holding company, AEE, no longer 
intends to provide financial support to Genco, including funding for the 2018 
debt maturity of $300 million, and the significant capital spending required at 
the Newton coal-fired plant to be compliant with Illinois environmental 
regulations. 

Genco has the ability to exercise a put option that permits the company to sell 
three gas-fired plants to an affiliate for the greater of $100 million or fair 
market value. While the cash inflow from monetizing the plants would provide 
financial flexibility, the core fundamentals of the business remain weak, driven
by sustained depressed power markets, prolonged low natural gas prices, and 
anemic customer demand. 

Fitch considers the exit from the merchant business to be credit positive to AEE
as it lowers the company's business risk and allows it to focus on growing its 
more stable and predictable regulated utility businesses.     

The revision of AIC's Outlook reflects the unfavorable rate decisions decided in
late 2012 in the company's first two formula rate plan (FRP) proceedings, 
suggesting Illinois continues to be a challenging regulatory environment, in 
Fitch's view. The first two rate decisions resulted in an aggregate $53 million 
electric distribution rate reduction.  

In light of the ICC's rate decisions, particularly reliance on an average rather
than year-end rate base, Fitch expects regulatory lag to persist. The 
methodology to calculate rate base and capital structure are on appeal.

Under the FRP framework, AIC is required to invest more than $600 million over 
10 years, above historical levels, in its transmission and distribution systems,
with recovery of these investments to occur in the context of annual FRP 
proceedings, subject to ICC approval. AIC announced it is likely to defer 
approximately $30 million of infrastructure capex in 2013, until more clarity is
provided in future FRP proceedings. 

Fitch expects AIC's credit protection measures to be strong for the current 
rating category in the forecast period. Fitch expects FFO-to-interest to average
4.5x and FFO-to-debt 21% over 2013-2015. Those credit metrics alone would likely
warrant a one-notch upgrade, but Fitch remains concerned about future rate 
proceedings. Fitch will closely monitor the next FRP proceeding to be filed in 
May 2013. A more constructive outcome could lead to a one-notch upgrade. 

Fitch expects UE's credit protection measures to remain adequate for the current
rating category and in line with utility peers with a similar risk profile. 
Fitch forecasts FFO-to-interest to average 5.1x and EBITDA-to-interest 5.2x over
2013-2015. FFO-to-debt is projected to average 23.1% and Debt-to-EBITDA 3.4x 
over the same time frame. UE's financial profile is bolstered by the recent 
balanced outcomes of its last four rate cases.

On Dec. 12, 2012, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) authorized UE an 
electric rate increase of $259.6 million, approximately 80% of the company's 
updated request. The tariff increase is based on a 9.8% ROE, and a 52.3% common 
equity ratio. The PSC permitted UE to continue to use its fuel adjustment 
clause, subject to existing sharing provisions, and its vegetation 
management/infrastructure inspection tracker. The PSC also allowed UE to 
implement a storm cost tracker. Regulatory lag remains an issue in Missouri. The
PSC relies on an historical test year with limited post-test year adjustments, 
and is prohibited from allowing construction work in progress (CWIP) in rate 
base. 

UE plans on spending approximately $3.2 billion in capital investments over 
2012-2016, including $2.8 billion in utility infrastructure and energy 
efficiency, and $400 million in pollution control equipment at its coal-fired 
plants. Fitch considers capex to be manageable.  

Fitch forecasts AEE's consolidated credit protection measures to be in line with
Fitch's target ratios for the current rating category. Fitch expects 
EBITDA-to-interest to average 4.4x and FFO-to-interest 4.3x over 2013-2015. 
Debt-to-EBITDA is projected to average 3.8x and FFO-to-debt 19.9% over the same 
time frame. Importantly, these ratios incorporate the negative effect of Genco's
financial results. It is likely that, on a deconsolidated basis, AEE's credit 
metrics would be stronger than currently forecasted, which Fitch would take into
consideration in its next credit review. AEE's credit protection measures are 
supported by current and projected utility tariff increases, and relatively low 
leverage at the parent level and utilities. 

Fitch considers AEE's liquidity to be strong. The funding needs of AEE's 
regulated subsidiaries are supported through the use of available cash, 
short-term intercompany borrowings, drawings under the bank credit facility, and
inter-company money pools. In November 2012, AEE renewed a $2.1 billion credit 
facility that matures in November 2017. Under the 2012 Missouri bank credit 
agreement, $1 billion is available for borrowing, and under the 2012 Illinois 
credit agreement, total available for borrowing equates to $1.1 billion. As of 
Sept. 30, 2012, AEE had approximately $2.38 billion of available total 
liquidity, including $298 million of cash and cash equivalents and $2.08 of 
unused credit facility borrowing. 

Consolidated debt maturities are considered to be manageable with $355 million 
due in 2013, $534 million due in 2014, and $120 million due in 2015.      

Genco Recovery Analysis:

The unsecured debt ratings are notched above or below the IDR, as a result of 
the relative recovery prospects in a hypothetical default scenario. Fitch values
the power generation assets that support the entity level debt using a net 
present value analysis. The generation asset net present values vary 
significantly based on future gas price assumptions and other variables, such as
the discount rate and heat rate forecasts. 

For the net present valuation of generation assets used in Fitch's recovery 
valuation case, Fitch uses the plant valuation provided by its third-party power
market consultant, Wood Mackenzie, as an input as well as Fitch's own gas price 
deck and other assumptions. 

The 'RR3' senior unsecured debt Recovery Rating indicates Fitch estimates 
recovery of 51%-70%. 

 

SENSITIVITY/RATING DRIVERS

Positive Rating Actions:

AEE: Stronger credit metrics from the exit of the merchant business could result
in a positive rating action.

UE: No positive rating action is contemplated at this time.

AIC: A constructive rate order in AIC's next FRP proceeding that indicates less 
regulatory uncertainty could lead to a one-notch upgrade.

Genco: A significant turnaround in power prices and a successful execution of 
the sale of power plants at prices higher than estimated by Fitch.

       

Negative Rating Actions:

AEE: Adverse rate orders at the utilities could pressure the ratings.

UE: Deterioration of the regulatory environment in Missouri could lead to a 
rating action. The inability to earn a return of and on capital investments or 
to recover capital costs on a timely basis. 

AIC: Unfavorable rate outcomes in future annual FRP proceedings and the 
inability to recover operating costs and capital investments on a timely basis 
would have a negative effect on credit protection measures.

Genco: Further weakness in power prices would likely trigger additional ratings 
downgrade

Fitch has downgraded the following ratings:

Ameren Energy Generating Company
--IDR to 'CC' from 'B-';
--Senior unsecured debt to 'CCC-/RR3' from 'B+/RR2'.

Fitch has affirmed the following ratings:

Ameren Corporation
--IDR at 'BBB'. 
--Senior unsecured at 'BBB'. 
--Commercial paper at 'F2';
--Short-term IDR at 'F2'.

Union Electric Company
--Long-term IDR at 'BBB+'
--Secured debt at 'A'
--Senior unsecured debt at 'A-'
--Preferred stock at 'BBB'
--Short-term IDR at 'F2'
--Commercial paper at 'F2'

Ameren Illinois Company
--Long-term IDR at 'BBB-'
--Secured debt at 'BBB+'
--Senior unsecured debt at 'BBB'
--Preferred stock at 'BB+'
--Short-term IDR at 'F3'
--Commercial Paper at 'F3'
--Senior secured pollution control revenue refunding bonds series 1998B issued 
by the Illinois Development Finance Authority at 'BBB+'
--Senior unsecured pollution control revenue refunding bonds series 1993C-1 
issued by the Illinois Development Finance Authority at 'BBB' 

The Outlook is revised to Stable from Positive
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