Fitch Affirms Portugal Telecom at 'BBB'; Outlook Negative

Tue May 7, 2013 10:18am EDT

(The following statement was released by the rating agency) LONDON, May 07 (Fitch) Fitch Ratings has affirmed Portugal Telecom SGPS SA's (PT) Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'BBB' with a Negative Outlook. At the same time, the agency has affirmed the senior unsecured rating of the bonds issued by Portugal Telecom International Finance BV at 'BBB.' The ratings reflect Fitch's view that at some stage the Portuguese economy will recover - albeit not soon - at which point PT's domestic business may be expected to return to growth. For now, this business is performing reasonably well in the face of harsh consumer conditions. Liquidity is sound - management have halved the dividend for three years (through 2014) saving EUR1.0bn cash relative to its prior commitment. Debt maturities are estimated to be cash covered through 2016. However leverage is high and fluctuates due to the significance of associate dividends in the metric - a less predictable or visible form of cash flow. Fitch's assessment of PT's 2012 leverage was 2.9x and close to the 3.0x downgrade sensitivity. However, approximately 0.2x of leverage was attributable to 2012's shortfall in associate dividend receipts. Dividends from Unitel in Angola of EUR50m compared with EUR126m in 2011. Our current rating case envisages leverage falling to 2.8x in 2013 and remaining at this level through 2014, which although high, is still within the guidelines for a 'BBB' rating. PT's domestic operations are considered well managed, with fibre investment high by incumbent standards and the company's TV product is well developed. PT is the leading provider of triple-play in Portugal despite the presence of strong cable competition. KEY RATING DRIVERS Sovereign Pressure With the Portuguese sovereign rated 'BB+'/Negative, PT's high domestic concentration leads to a 'BBB' rating that is constrained by the sovereign and is likely to come under material pressure in the event of further downgrades of the state. In the case of PT, any sovereign downgrade from the current level will prompt a corporate downgrade and the gap between the sovereign and corporate expected to remain no greater than two notches. Importance of Associate Dividends Associate dividend receipts are important in the context of Fitch's leverage calculation - in PT's case a function of unadjusted net debt to EBITDA (excluding Brazil) plus associate dividends. Associate dividends amounted to 17% of the denominator in 2012 and we forecast it to remain at similar levels. However, timing of receipts is unpredictable, as was seen with Angolan receipts in 2012, while the sustainability of dividends from its Brazilian operations, Oi, remains dependent on the turnaround of that business. Fitch will factor in sustainable dividends in assessing the company's expected credit profile. Limited Headroom A shortfall in expected Unitel receipts meant PT's 2012 leverage widened to 2.9x versus a downgrade sensitivity of 3.0x. Unitel is Angola's leading mobile operator and is performing well. However, the timing and size of dividend repatriation are subject to approval by Angola's central bank, with 2012 receipts of EUR50m compared with EUR126m in 2011, while PT reported a short-term financial receivable of EUR216m at YE12, relating to Unitel. Oi has committed to a BRL2.0bn dividend through 2014, 15.5% of which represents PT's direct economic interest. These receipts are important given that domestic EBITDA is expected to remain under pressure. With some recovery in cash receipts from Angola (our model assumes just over EUR100m), combined with underlying domestic EBITDA pressure, Fitch currently envisages leverage of around 2.8x for 2013. However, the timing and size of cash repatriation from Angola is somewhat unpredictable. This in turn is likely to lead to some volatility in the leverage metric and an important area to monitor. Efficient Incumbent, Weak Economy Portugal remains in the grip of sustained recession. Fitch estimates negative growth of 3.2% in 2012 and further contraction of 2.6% in 2013. Telecoms spend, particularly mobile, has proven less defensive than previously thought across all of southern Europe. Nonetheless, PT has developed a strong position in triple-play, helped by a fibre build passing 1.6 million homes. Its Meo TV base is over 1.1 million, growing 17% in 2012, helping it stabilise fixed accesses and grow its residential top line. A sizeable enterprise segment has also proven economically sensitive. Good Liquidity Despite its peripheral country domicile PT was nonetheless successful in diversifying funding sources in 2012, raising four-year retail debt, extending the maturity of its core bank facility, accessing EIB and vendor finance, before returning to the Eurobond market in Q412. Retained Vivo proceeds and the decision to half the dividend for 2012-14, boosted domestic cash to EUR3.0bn at YE12 pro-forma for the sale of Macau associate, CTM. The May 2013 EUR1.0bn 7 year benchmark deal confirms current market access is good. RATING SENSITIVITIES Positive: Future developments that could lead to positive rating actions include: - In the absence of a stronger sovereign environment and materially more conservative financial policy, an upgrade seems unlikely at present. Negative: Future developments that could lead to negative rating action include: - Unadjusted leverage (net debt (excluding Brazil) to EBITDA plus associate dividends) breaching 3.0x on a protracted basis. - A downgrade of the sovereign to 'BB' would be likely to prompt an immediate downgrade; given the economic implications for PT's domestic business and ability to refinance maturities in these circumstances. Contact: Supervisory Analyst Stuart Reid Senior Director +44 20 3530 1085 Fitch Ratings Limited 30 North Colonnade London E14 5GN Principal Analyst Owen Fenton Associate Director +44 20 3530 1423 Committee Chairperson Mike Dunning Managing Director +44 20 3530 1178 Media Relations: Peter Fitzpatrick, London, Tel: +44 20 3530 1103, Email: peter.fitzpatrick@fitchratings.com. Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com. For regulatory purposes in various jurisdictions, the supervisory analyst named above is deemed to be the primary analyst for this issuer; the principal analyst is deemed to be the secondary. Applicable criteria, 'Corporate Rating Methodology', dated 8 August 2012; 'Rating Telecom Companies', dated 9 August 2012, are available on www.fitchratings.com. Applicable Criteria and Related Research Corporate Rating Methodology here Rating Telecom Companies here 2013 Outlook: European Telecoms and Cable here Additional Disclosure Solicitation Status here ALL FITCH CREDIT RATINGS ARE SUBJECT TO CERTAIN LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS. PLEASE READ THESE LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK: here. IN ADDITION, RATING DEFINITIONS AND THE TERMS OF USE OF SUCH RATINGS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE AGENCY'S PUBLIC WEBSITE 'WWW.FITCHRATINGS.COM'. PUBLISHED RATINGS, CRITERIA AND METHODOLOGIES ARE AVAILABLE FROM THIS SITE AT ALL TIMES. FITCH'S CODE OF CONDUCT, CONFIDENTIALITY, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, AFFILIATE FIREWALL, COMPLIANCE AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE 'CODE OF CONDUCT' SECTION OF THIS SITE. FITCH MAY HAVE PROVIDED ANOTHER PERMISSIBLE SERVICE TO THE RATED ENTITY OR ITS RELATED THIRD PARTIES. DETAILS OF THIS SERVICE FOR RATINGS FOR WHICH THE LEAD ANALYST IS BASED IN AN EU-REGISTERED ENTITY CAN BE FOUND ON THE ENTITY SUMMARY PAGE FOR THIS ISSUER ON THE FITCH WEBSITE.

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