TEXT-Fitch affirms San Antonio, Texas ratings

Wed Oct 3, 2012 2:39pm EDT

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Oct 3 - Fitch Ratings assigns an 'AA' rating to the following San Antonio,
Texas bonds:

--$519.5 million Public Facilities Corporation (PFC) improvement and refunding 
lease revenue bonds, series 2012 (Convention Center Refinancing and Expansion 
Project).

The bonds are scheduled to sell via negotiation during the week of Oct. 8, 2012.
Bond proceeds will be used to refund all outstanding hotel occupancy tax (HOT) 
bonds and finance the expansion costs of the convention center. 

In addition, Fitch affirms the following ratings:  

--$1.018 billion limited tax bonds at 'AAA';
--$334.6 million combination tax and revenue certificates of obligation (COs) at
'AAA';
--$32 million tax notes at 'AAA';
--$21.3 million (Starbright Industrial Development Corp.) contract revenue 
bonds, series 2003 at 'AA+';
--$35.8 million municipal facilities corporation (MFC) lease revenue bonds 
affirmed at 'AA+';

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

SECURITY 

The PFC lease revenue bonds are secured by annually appropriated lease payments 
made by the city to the PFC. The limited tax bonds, COs, and tax notes are 
secured by an annual property tax levy, limited to $2.50 per $100 taxable 
assessed valuation (TAV). The COs are additionally payable from a limited pledge
of net revenues of the city's municipal parks system. The MFC lease revenue 
bonds are secured by annually appropriated lease payments made by the city to 
the MFC. The contract revenue bonds are special obligations of the San Antonio 
Starbright Industrial Development Corporation and are payable from pledged 
contract payments from the city containing payments from its electric and gas 
utility, Central Public Service (CPS).

KEY RATING DRIVERS

STRONG FINANCIAL RESERVES: San Antonio's favorable financial performance has 
been aided by management's focus on increasing efficiency and conservative 
budgeting, enabling the city to preserve its progress in implementing enhanced 
financial reserve policies during the economic slowdown. Fitch favorably views 
the city's two-year budget strategy, which has expanded its planning horizon. 

LARGE CAPITAL PLANS: The city's debt profile is mixed, characterized by its 
above-average overall debt burden, balanced against rapid limited tax bond 
amortization and ample debt service capacity within the current tax rate. The 
city's capital plan is aggressive but will allow the city to address its 
sizeable deferred capital needs.

CONVENTION CENTER NOT ESSENTIAL TO CORE OPERATIONS: Although important to the 
city's economy, the leased asset (convention center) is not considered essential
to the city's core governmental operations according to Fitch published rating 
criteria, leading to a two-notch distinction between the PFC lease revenue bonds
and the city's limited tax bonds. However, Fitch does note the statutory 
requirement that convention center expansion costs are the sole eligible use of 
2% expansion HOT receipts, which provide an incentive to the city to make full 
and timely annual appropriations. 

CONVENTION CENTER DEBT: HOTs, the planned source of repayment for the PFC 
convention center project lease revenue bonds, are subject to economic 
volatility but benefit from the city's large convention and visitor industry 
which markets to both regional and national audiences. The inventory of hotel 
rooms grew by a notable 26% from 2007-2011 and additional hotels are under 
construction (although the city's conservative forecast points to modest future 
growth, which Fitch views favorably).

 

HIGH STARBRIGHT DEBT SERVICE COVERAGE: Electric and gas utility payments to the 
city provide very high debt service coverage for the Starbright Industrial 
Development Corporation's contract revenue bonds. Additionally, the bonds' 
contract terms and legal covenants are sound and no additional leveraging is 
planned.

MILITARY REMAINS KEY SECTOR: Although the local economy has diversified notably,
the military remains a major economic factor. This is evidenced by very large 
ongoing investments and planned additions to troop strength resulting from base 
realignment and closure decisions that have benefited the city.

STABLE ECONOMY: The recessionary contraction of the local economy has begun to 
reverse course, enabling the city's unemployment rate to remain well below state
and national averages. The city's population growth remains rapid, aided by 
affordable home prices and ample developable land.

CREDIT PROFILE

Large Financial Reserves

The city's financial profile remains solid as evidenced by the maintenance of 
unreserved fund balances in excess of 20% of spending since fiscal 2006, well 
above its 9% fund balance policy level. Additions to fund balance had been 
enabled by previously strong sales tax growth and positive CPS (electric and gas
utility rated 'AA+' by Fitch) payment trends, along with management's aggressive
cost controls mainly in the form of annual personnel reductions. 

Two-Year Budget Strategy 

The city's two-year budget strategy, in which a portion of reserves in excess of
its fund balance policy are internally designated for next year's spending, has 
expanded its planning horizon. A sizeable $83.4 million of such reserves was 
budgeted for use in fiscal 2011, although greater than projected sales tax 
receipts and CPS transfers precluded the need for using any of the reserve and 
led to a modest increase in the fund balance. 

Sales tax receipts grew by 6.1% in fiscal 2011, exceeding the budget's modest 1%
growth estimate, and CPS payments increased moderately due to a very hot summer 
and a rate hike. As a result, the unrestricted fund balance totaled a strong 
$226.6 million or 25.1% of operating expenditures and transfers out. A portion 
of this fund balance, $83.4 million, is designated as the city's 9% reserve. 

Current Year's Progress and Fiscal 2013 Budget 

Due to conservative revenue projections and continued cost controls, projected 
fiscal 2012 results are also favorable. Despite a projected $26.8 million 
operating deficit (equal to 2.8% of spending), the planned drawdown is well 
below the $76.9 million two-year budget reserve allocated to close the fiscal 
2012 budget gap. As a result, the two-year budget reserve will remain mostly 
intact for fiscal 2013 at $66.4 million. The resulting projected unrestricted 
fund balance for fiscal 2012 equals a still strong $200 million or 21.2% of 
spending, notably better than the budgeted level of 15.9%. 

The proposed fiscal 2013 budget, aided by the appropriation of $66.4 million of 
the two-year budget reserve (equal to 6.8% of appropriations), is balanced at a 
level property tax rate and assumes a reasonable sales tax growth projection of 
3%. The budget also allocates a more modest $6.6 million of reserves for fiscal 
2014, reducing the projected budget gap to $36 million, equal to a modest 3.6% 
of planned fiscal 2014 expenditures. 

Large Capital Needs

This summer, the city issued the first installment of the $596 million general 
obligation bond authorization approved by voters in May 2012. As the largest 
bond authorization in the city's history, it is intended to address the city's 
substantial deferred capital needs. According to the management, all future debt
will be sized and timed to maintain the city's current debt service tax rate 
assuming modest tax base growth. 

Manageable Debt Profile

The impact of the 2012 bond program on the city's direct debt profile should be 
manageable given its low current levels, favorable pay-out rate, and expansive 
tax base. The rapid pay-out rate, at 65% of limited tax bond principal in ten 
years, is reflected in sizable annual debt payments, which in fiscal 2011 were 
above average at 18.5% of general government spending.  Including the current 
offering, the city's overall debt burden is above average at $3,251 per capita 
and 5.3% of market value after adjusting for substantial state support of local 
school district debt. 

Convention Center Expansion Project

The current offering will finance the expansion of its convention center and 
refund all of the city's outstanding HOT debt issued to finance previous 
improvements to the facility. Although secured by an annual appropriation of all
legally available funds, the city plans to fund lease payments primarily with 
HOT receipts. 

Fitch notes that the refunding represents a substantial restructuring of HOT 
debt in which the final maturity is extended by eight years, principal payments 
are deferred for the first four years, and principal payments are heavily 
back-loaded. As a result, principal amortization is negligible in the first 10 
years at only 2.6%, which Fitch views negatively. The structure allows debt 
service carrying costs to rise to manageable levels during the first 10 years, 
providing ample time for HOT receipts to grow in the interim. 

In the absence of a debt service reserve fund, the city council approved the 
funding of two contingency funds as part of its HOT financial policy. The funds 
consist of a $47 million lease payment contingency fund and a $15 million 
operating contingency fund for the convention center, both considered important 
features by Fitch. 

Appropriation Risk Affected by Nature of Leased Asset

The leased asset, the convention center, is not considered essential to core 
governmental operations by Fitch and serves as the basis for the two-notch 
distinction from the city's 'AAA' rating on its limited tax bonds. Also, the 
bonds' somewhat weak legal provisions do not include a mortgage interest for the
trustee in the event of non-appropriation. 

The non-appropriation of base rental payments requires the city to vacate the 
leased asset by the end of the last fiscal year for which lease payments were 
funded. Fitch notes that the principal planned repayment source, the 2% 
expansion HOT, can only be used for convention center expansion costs by state 
statute, minimizing the incentive for the city to withhold any annual 
appropriation. 

HOT Growth Projection Reasonable

In addition to the 2% expansion HOT, the plan of finance also relies on a 
portion of the annual growth in the city's 7% general HOT. The city's 30-year 
projection of HOT receipts forecasts long-term annual HOT growth of 3.37% based 
on modest annual increases in new hotel room additions, available room nights, 
and daily room rates. 

The 7% general HOT revenues fund the city's community and visitor's facility 
fund, which includes the operations of the convention center facilities, the 
convention and visitor's bureau, the Alamodome, international affairs, cultural 
affairs, outside arts agencies, and other convention/tourist-related activities.
Aided by the two HOT contingency funds, Fitch notes that the two HOT sources are
sufficient to withstand considerable economic impact, including another deep 
recession in the early years followed by a slower economic recovery. 

Military Still Key Within Broad Economy

San Antonio is the second largest city in the state and seventh largest in the 
U.S., with an estimated population of 1.3 million for 2012. Prominent sectors in
the local economy are military and government employment, domestic and 
international trade, convention and tourism, medical and health care, financial 
services, and telecommunications. Aided by considerable growth in energy sector 
jobs, the city's unemployment rate declined to 7.3% in July 2012, down from the 
8.1% level recorded in July 2011. 

The city's unemployment rate compares favorably to state and national averages 
of 7.5% and 8.6%, respectively, for the same period. The city's construction 
sector has benefited from several large projects, including the recent 
completion of the $3.2 billion San Antonio Military Medical Center, which was 
accompanied by approximately 12,500 additional military personnel to the city. 
After posting strong annual gains through fiscal 2009, the city's taxable values
have flattened through fiscal 2013 as new improvement values have been offset by
reappraisal losses in existing values.
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