TEXT-S&P raises Westmoreland Coal rating to 'B-'

Fri Nov 2, 2012 4:18pm EDT

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Overview
     -- U.S.-based Westmoreland Coal Co.'s liquidity has improved after
it negotiated less restrictive covenants for a term loan and obtained a new 
asset-backed revolving credit facility.
     -- We are raising our ratings on Westmoreland, including the corporate 
credit rating and issue-level rating, to 'B-' from 'CCC+'.
     -- The stable rating outlook reflects our view that Westmoreland will 
maintain an EBITDA cushion of at least 15% over its revised covenants for the 
next year or so.

Rating Action
As previously announced, on Nov. 1, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services 
raised its corporate credit rating on Englewood, Co.-based Westmoreland Coal 
Co. (WLB). to 'B-' from 'CCC+'. The rating outlook is stable.

At the same time, we raised the issue-level rating on WLB's $275 million 
senior secured notes due 2018 to 'B-' (the same as the corporate credit 
rating) from 'CCC+'. The recovery rating remains a '4', reflecting our 
expectation for average (30%-50%) recovery for lenders under our default 
scenario.

Rationale
The upgrade reflects our view that WLB is less vulnerable to default after 
successfully negotiating less restrictive covenant requirements for an unrated 
$110 million term loan due 2018. Our assessment of WLB's business risk profile 
as "vulnerable" and financial risk profile as "highly leveraged" are 
unchanged. We are revising our liquidity score to "adequate" based on the 
covenant relief and additional liquidity provided under the company's new $20 
million asset-based loan (ABL) facility from "less than adequate." Our outlook 
for the coal industry remains negative because demand for domestic coal is 
still depressed due to natural gas substitution and continued high inventories 
at utilities following last year's unusually warm winter.

Our base-case scenario anticipates that WLB will produce around 22 million 
tons of coal in 2012 and generate EBITDA (including adjustments for pension 
and asset retirement expenses) of about $135 million. This EBITDA figure is 
higher than our earlier projections due to better-than-expected performance 
from the company's recently acquired Kemmerer mine, which boasts higher 
margins than its other mines. At year-end, we expect the company's total debt 
to approximate $800 million, including $440 million in adjustments for 
pensions, asset retirement obligations, and operating leases. We expect 
leverage at year end to be around 5.9x, with funds from operations 
(FFO)-to-debt of about 8%. In 2013, we expect EBITDA will grow modestly to 
about $145 million, and that debt reductions in the form of required 
amortization and excess cash flow payments will reduce total debt by about $30 
million. These factors lead us to anticipate further improvements in credit 
metrics by the end of 2013, with leverage around 5.3x and FFO-to-debt of about 
10%.

WLB operates six coal mines in Montana, Texas, North Dakota, and Wyoming, with 
80% of its coal reserves concentrated in the Powder River Basin (PRB). The 
company has about 486 million tons of proven or probable coal reserves, a 
significant increase over the past several years, and it estimates that its 
proven and probable reserves will last 10 to 40 years. We believe that WLB, 
which has about 80% of capacity in the northern PRB, is a high-cost coal 
producer. Despite the company's strategy of operating mines situated at or 
near its electric utility customers, thus reducing transportation costs, we 
estimate that it operates at cash costs well above $10 per ton--significantly 
higher than those of its larger competitors in the region. The company also 
has significant customer concentration. In 2012, we expect it will generate 
approximately 65% of total revenues from coal sales to five power plants, 
leading to the risk that any mine disruptions or unexpected customer outages 
could hurt profitability. However, nearly all of WLB's production is sold 
under long-term contracts and provides for sales to customers for periods of 
three to nine years. In our view, these contracts somewhat limit customers' 
ability to switch suppliers before their contracts expire and provides some 
predictability to the company's revenue stream.

WLB also operates two coal-fired power-generating units with a total capacity 
of 230 megawatts in North Carolina. The company conducts its power operations 
through its subsidiaries (collectively, ROVA). It purchases coal for ROVA 
under long-term contracts from suppliers in Central Appalachia. The ROVA 
facilities supply electricity to Dominion Virginia Power under power purchase 
agreements extending through 2019 and 2020. However, ROVA's coal supply 
agreements extend through 2014 and 2015 at prices substantially below current 
market rates. Dominion is not obligated under the fixed-price purchase power 
agreement to bear potentially significantly higher fuel costs. As a result, 
WLB's ROVA facilities could incur substantial operating losses starting in 
2014. Although outside of the rating time horizon, we have assumed a 
significant decline in revenue from the ROVA facilities in 2015, no further 
revenue contributions in 2016, and a $50 million charge in 2016 to account for 
any associated losses.

Liquidity
We regard WLB's liquidity as adequate, based on the following assumptions:
     -- Liquidity sources, which primarily consist of FFO generation and 
availability under the ABL facilities, will exceed uses by at least 1.2x over 
the next 12-18 months;
     -- Liquidity sources will continue to exceed uses, even if EBITDA were to 
decline by 15%; and
     -- Compliance with assumed financial maintenance covenants would likely 
survive a 15% drop in EBITDA.
 
As of Sept. 30, 2012, WLB had total liquidity of $97 million, consisting of 
$54 million in cash and $43 million in total availability under its $20 
million ABL at WLB due 2017 and its $25 million ABL at its subsidiary 
Westmoreland Mining LLC (WML) due 2013. The company recently amended covenant 
measures under its WML subsidiary $110 million term loan due 2018 (unrated). 
WML's required leverage ratio will now step down to 1.5x from the current 
2.25x in quarterly increments over the course of 2013, a more gradual change 
than the previous requirement to step down to 1.5x as of year-end 2012. We 
expect that WLB will be able to maintain at least a 15% EBITDA cushion under 
the new covenant restrictions.

We anticipate that WLB will generate cash flow from operations of around $59 
million in 2012, which will cover its expected capital expenditures of $26 
million. We project the company will end the year with about $44 million in 
cash, some of which will be used to reduce debt under the company's required 
75% excess cash flow sweep. In 2013, we expect the company to produce free 
operating cash flow in the range of $50 million to $55 million, after capital 
spending of about $20 million.

WLB's debt maturities over the next several years are manageable. Its notes 
and term loan debt are due in 2018. The company has not paid dividends on its 
common stock for some time, and we don't anticipate it will pay any common 
stock dividends in the foreseeable future.

Recovery analysis
We rate WLB's $275 million term loan 'B-' (same as the corporate credit 
rating) with a recovery rating of '4', indicating our expectation of average 
(30%-50%) recovery for bondholders in the event of a payment default under our 
default scenario. Standard & Poor's does not rate WML's term loan.

Outlook
The stable rating outlook reflects our expectation that, despite headwinds in 
the coal industry, WLB will maintain a minimum 15% EBITDA covenant cushion 
over the next 12 to 18 months while continuing to improve its credit metrics. 

A positive rating action is unlikely given the company's highly leveraged 
financial profile (we expect debt-to-EBITDA of around 6x in 2012) and 
vulnerable business profile. We could raise the ratings if we expect the 
company to maintain leverage metrics below 5x and FFO-to-debt above 12%. This 
could occur if the company increases its mine diversity and production levels 
without adding to its existing debt load. 

We would consider a negative rating action if, as a result of deterioration in 
operating performance during the next several quarters, WLB's credit measures 
and liquidity position deteriorated. This could include the financial covenant 
cushion falling below our 15% EBITDA benchmark. This could occur if the 
economic recovery takes longer than we expect, if the company incurs 
greater-than-expected costs in association with its ROVA contracts, or if 
coal-powered electricity consumption falls, resulting in a decline in total 
coal volumes sold.

Related Criteria And Research
     -- Criteria For Assigning 'CCC+', 'CCC', 'CCC-', And 'CC' Ratings, Oct. 
1, 2012
     -- Key Credit Factors: Methodology And Assumptions On Risks In The Mining 
Industry, June 23, 2009
     -- Methodology And Assumptions: Liquidity Descriptors For Global 
Corporate Issuers, Sept. 28, 2011
     -- 2008 Corporate Criteria: Analytical Methodology, April 15, 2008

Ratings List
Ratings Raised; Outlook Stable
                          To              From
Westmoreland Coal Co.
 Corporate Credit Rating   B-/Stable/--   CCC+/Positive/--
 Senior Unsecured          B-             CCC+
  Recovery Rating          4              4
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