August 12, 2014 / 1:56 PM / 3 years ago

Fitch Affirms Aon's Re-Opening of Senior Debt at 'BBB+'

(The following statement was released by the rating agency) CHICAGO, August 12 (Fitch) Fitch Ratings rates the proposed 10-year senior unsecured notes issuance by Aon plc (Aon) 'BBB+'. The proposed $200 million issuance is a re-opening of the existing $250 million 3.5% issue due June 14, 2024 that Fitch currently rates 'BBB+'. Fitch affirmed all of Aon's ratings on May 7, 2014, including the Issuer Default Rating (IDR) and senior debt ratings at 'BBB+', and the commercial paper ratings at 'F2'. The Rating Outlook is Stable. A complete list of ratings follows at the end of this release. KEY RATING DRIVERS The new notes are fully and unconditionally guaranteed by Aon Corporation (Aon Corp.) and the ratings are therefore based on Aon Corp.'s existing Fitch 'BBB+' IDR. The net proceeds from this new senior debt issuance will be used for general corporate purposes including commercial paper refinancing and mergers and acquisitions. Fitch views the proposed debt favorably overall as the new senior debt will likely be issued at an attractive rate given current market conditions and will have a long-dated maturity, resulting in an improved liquidity profile. Fitch expects that the increase to pro forma financial leverage will be manageable and within both Fitch's expectations for the company and the broker sector credit factor guidelines for the current rating category. Aon's ratings continue to reflect its strong competitive position, balance sheet and cash flow generation, very good financial flexibility, and manageable financial leverage which are all within guidelines for the rating category. At June 30, 2014, financial leverage as measured by debt-to-EBITDA was roughly 2.5x, and debt-to-total capital, equity credit adjusted, was roughly 42%, both of which included Euro 500 million debt that was paid off on July 1, 2014. Pro forma leverage with the proposed new debt and the payoff of the Euro 500 million debt, conservatively calculated based on annualized second-quarter 2014 EBITDA, would be roughly 2.2x and 40%, respectively, in line with historical high levels. Fitch expects both ratios to remain relatively stable, assuming continued strong EBITDA growth and anticipated capital planning through 2014. Leverage is currently at levels that Fitch views as solid for the rating category. Fitch believes Aon's liquidity profile is strong with cash and short-term investments of roughly $726 million as of June 30, 2014. Cash flow remains significant with earnings-based EBITDA interest coverage of roughly 10x, including additional debt that was repaid on July 1, 2014. The company generated $1.6 billion of cash flow from operations for the full year 2013 compared to $1.4 billion in 2012. Financial flexibility has been improving year-over-year. Financial leverage has declined over the last three years while interest coverage has improved due to higher EBITDA, reduced pension liabilities and restructuring program expenses, and moderate changes to debt levels. Aon's merger and acquisition activity has been below its normal levels following the Hewitt acquisition. Fitch believes that Aon's acquisition of Hewitt has resulted in positive business and operational synergies, with reasonable integration risk. Aon expects cumulative annual expense savings of $402 million to be fully realized by the end of 2014. Fitch also believes that the current management team has a very good track record as far as the execution of strategic plans and expense cutting. As of June 30, 2014, Aon was on track to meet its stated expectations. RATING SENSITIVITIES The key rating triggers that could result in an upgrade include a sustained strong improvement in operating performance on an absolute basis and relative to peers with operating EBIT consistently over $1 billion and an operating EBIT margin near 15%, a run-rate debt-to-EBITDA ratio less than 1.5x, and interest coverage as measured by an EBITDA-to-interest ratio more than 12x. The key rating triggers that could result in a downgrade include a sustained increase in the debt-to-EBITDA ratio to more than 2.25x, a deterioration of the company's average EBITDA-to-interest expense ratio to lower single digits, and any impairment to goodwill that would materially impact the balance sheet and related ratios. Fitch has affirmed the following rating: --$250 million 3.5% senior debt due 2024 at 'BBB+'. Fitch currently rates Aon as follows: Aon plc --IDR at 'BBB+'; --$350 million 4% senior debt due 2023 at 'BBB+'; --Euro500 million 2.875% senior debt due 2026 at 'BBB+'; --$256 million 4.25% senior debt due 2042 at 'BBB+'; --$250 million 4.45% senior debt due 2043 at 'BBB+'; --$550 million 4.6% senior debt due 2044 at 'BBB+'; --Short-term IDR at 'F2'; --Commercial paper at 'F2'. Aon Corporation --IDR at 'BBB+'; --$600 million 3.5% senior debt due 2015 at 'BBB+'; --$500 million 3.125% senior debt due 2016 at 'BBB+'; --$600 million 5% senior debt due 2020 at 'BBB+'; --$521 million 8.205% junior subordinated deferrable interest debentures due 2027 at 'BBB-'; --$300 million 6.25% senior debt due 2040 at 'BBB+'; --Short-term IDR at 'F2'; --Commercial paper at 'F2'. Aon Services Luxembourg & Co S.C.A. --IDR at 'BBB+'. The Rating Outlook is Stable. Contact: Primary Analyst Gretchen Roetzer Director +1-312-606-2327 Fitch Ratings, Inc. 70 West Madison Street Chicago, IL 60602 Secondary Analyst Gregory Dickerson Director +1-212-908-0220 Committee Chairperson Donald F. Thorpe, CPA, CFA Senior Director +1-312-606-2353 Media Relations: Brian Bertsch, New York, Tel: +1 212-908-0549, Email: brian.bertsch@fitchratings.com. Additional information is available on Fitch's web site at 'www.fitchratings.com'. Applicable Criteria and Related Research: --'Fitch Expects to Rate Aon's New Senior Debt 'BBB+'; Affirms all Ratings' (May 7, 2014); --'U.S. Insurance Broker Industry Sector Credit Factors' Special Report (May 4, 2012); --'Corporate Rating Methodology: Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent and Subsidiary Linkage' (Aug. 5, 2013); --'Treatment and Notching of Hybrids in Non-financial Corporate and REIT Credit Analysis' (Dec. 23, 2013). Applicable Criteria and Related Research: U.S. Insurance Broker Industry Sector Credit Factors here Corporate Rating Methodology - Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent and Subsidiary Linkage here Treatment and Notching of Hybrids in Non-Financial Corporate and REIT Credit Analysis 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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