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March 21 (The following statement was released by the rating agency)
Fitch Ratings has affirmed Telefonica SA's (Telefonica)
Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'BBB+', with Negative Outlook, and
Short-term IDR at 'F2'. Please see below for a full list of rating actions.
The affirmation reflects Fitch's view that Telefonica continues to represent one
of the most diverse operating and cash flow profiles among the large incumbent
peer group in EMEA. Compared with Deutsche Telekom (BBB+/Stable) and Orange
(BBB+/Negative), Telefonica exhibits stronger geographic diversification, a
lower, albeit significant, reliance on its domestic market, along with
significant scale and leading market positions in its international portfolio.
Management has shown both a resolve and ability to reduce debt through disposals
and cuts to shareholder distributions. A number of headwinds exist including an
intensifying competitive environment in Spain, along with significant currency
volatility, mainly due to operations in Latin America. These downside risks are
reflected in the Negative Outlook, although this will likely be revised to
Stable if our current forecasts are met in 2014.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
Proactive Portfolio Management & Deleveraging
A spike in leverage, following the 2010 Vivo acquisition and coincident economic
slowdown, has been managed well. A combination of material cuts to its
distribution policy, the sale of non-core assets and stake sales, along with
hybrid issuance has seen the company reduce net debt to EUR46.6bn (EUR43.6bn
adjusted for post FY13 disposals) - i.e. adjusted for 50% equity credit assigned
to the hybrid instruments. This compares with debt of EUR56.3bn at FYE11. Fitch
expects funds from operations (FFO) net adjusted leverage to stabilise around
3.3x in 2014 and beyond, a level that is consistent with the large European
incumbent peer group and a 'BBB+' rating. FFO net adjusted leverage was 3.2x at
Telefonica exhibits stronger portfolio diversification than similarly rated
peers, such as Deutsche Telekom and Orange SA. Of this group, Telefonica is
least reliant on its domestic market at 45% contribution to operating cash flow
(OCF; EBITDA less capex) from Spain in 2013, compared with Deutsche Telekom's
70% from Germany and Orange's 65% from France. Fitch estimates that following
the E-Plus transaction (which remains subject to regulatory approval), Germany
will account for 9% and the UK a 10% contribution - boosting the cash flow from
competitive but nonetheless stronger performing northern European economies,
while Latin America will contribute 39%. Such broad diversification offers
protection against economic cycles as well as structural shifts and maturing
Domestic Operating Environment Remains Tough
Spain is still Telefonica's single largest market, accounting for 43% of
forecast 2014 OCF. A domestic economy characterised by high unemployment and
weak domestic consumption, along with an increasingly tough competitive
environment will continue to weigh on this part of the business. Telefonica's
"Fusion" quad-play product has fundamentally shifted pricing in the market,
though without slowing the pace of mobile subscriber losses. The incumbent lost
a total of 1.6 million mobile customers in the 12 months to December 2013, while
mobile service revenues contracted by 16%. Aggressive MVNO mobile offers have
had a significant impact on the established operators, while Vodafone's
acquisition of ONO, the country's largest cable operator, is likely to increase
fixed line and quad-play pressures. Domestic EBITDA fell 7% in 2013. Further
contraction is likely in 2014 and may continue beyond, in Fitch's view.
Currency volatility primarily related to Telefonica's Latin American businesses
had a material impact on 2013 reported results - revenues suffered a negative
EUR5bn currency impact; with a EUR1.7bn effect felt at the EBITDA level.
Currency devaluation in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela has been significant,
with the prospect of any near-term easing in these pressures far from certain.
While its LatAm operations generally report top-line growth and solid underlying
performance, currency volatility removed the underlying growth benefits of the
LatAm business in 2013 and in the absence of any material appreciation will
continue to impact reported group level results in 2014.
Fitch estimates that LatAm countries in 2014 will account for around 39% of
Telefonica's OCF and their currencies at 8% of group debt, giving rise to a
currency mismatch. Euro zone countries are forecast to represent 52% of OCF,
compared with an estimated 80% of euro-dominated debt.
Measured M&A Approach
M&A risk at Telefonica is viewed by Fitch as measured and its intentions in this
area have been well-articulated by management. Recent activity has focused on
the sale of non-core operations with the agreed disposal of businesses in the
Czech Republic and Ireland expected to raise around EUR3bn in proceeds in 2014.
Disposal proceeds along with approximately EUR900m to be raised from minorities
(at the Telefonica Deutschland level) in a rights issue accompanying the E-Plus
acquisition will offset the EUR5bn cash component of the German acquisition. The
company's leverage neutral approach to funding this deal underlines caution in
financial policies, which Fitch views positively. The possibility of market
consolidation in Brazil would be a transaction that makes strategic sense -
regulatory barriers to such a development are though considered high.
Negative: Future developments that could lead to negative rating actions
-FFO net adjusted leverage approaching 3.5x with little expectation that
deleveraging comfortably below this level can be achieved organically.
Mid-single digit or below pre-dividend FCF margin would increase downgrade
Positive: Future developments that could lead to a revision of the Outlook to
- FFO net adjusted leverage well below 3.5x on a sustained basis. A mid-to-high
single digit pre-dividend free cash flow (FCF) margin, which is also deemed an
important metric at 'BBB+', on a consistent basis is likely to help stabilise
The following ratings are affirmed:-
Telefonica SA Long term IDR: 'BBB+'; Negative Outlook
Telefonica SA Short term IDR: 'F2'
Telefonica Europe BV's /Telefonica Emisiones' bonds: 'BBB+'
Telefonica Finance USA LLC's preference shares: 'BB+'
Telefonica Europe BV subordinated hybrid securities: 'BBB-'