Italy - Factors to watch on May 25
The following factors could affect Italian markets on Thursday.
Overview -- We believe Archer Daniels Midland Co.'s (ADM's) earnings may be weaker in the remainder of 2012 because of a smaller U.S. corn and soybean harvest, and the effect that may have on the company's ethanol and grain handling businesses. -- The company may continue its share repurchases despite the possibility of soft earnings and higher priced grains. -- We are affirming our ratings on ADM, including the 'A' long-term and 'A-1' short-term corporate credit ratings. -- We are revising the outlook to negative from stable, reflecting the risk of lower earnings and weaker adjusted credit measures over the next year. Rating Action On Aug. 3, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services affirmed its ratings on Decatur, Ill.-based food processing company Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM), including the 'A' long-term and 'A-1' short-term corporate credit ratings, and revised the outlook to negative from stable. ADM reported about $10.3 billion in balance sheet debt as of its fiscal year ended June 30, 2012. Rationale The outlook revision to negative reflects our belief that earnings and credit measures may weaken over the next year, given the current drought across the majority of the U.S. farm belt. The drought could also result in lower volumes for the company's ethanol facilities (which are currently not profitable), possibly leading to an extended period of weak earnings in that business. And the company's grain handling volume may suffer, resulting in lower merchandising and handling segment earnings. Although the company's fiscal year-end (June 30, 2012) credit measures continue to be in line with our expectations, we believe they may weaken over the next 12 to 18 months based on our earnings outlook and the possibility for higher long-term debt balances from higher working capital requirements. We estimate the ratio of inventory-adjusted debt to EBITDA was about 2.5x and funds from operations (FFO) to adjusted debt was about 35% at fiscal year-end 2012. (Outstanding short-term working capital borrowings are offset by a portion of the company's readily marketable grain inventories (RMI).) These numbers were only modestly weaker than the fiscal 2011 ratios of 2.2x and 37%, respectively, and are within the indicative ratio range for the company's "intermediate" financial risk profile, which include leverage of 2x-3x and FFO to debt of 30%-45%. However, we believe they may weaken to closer to 3x and below 30%, respectively, over the next 12 to 18 months. We also believe the company may continue with share repurchases despite the possibility of weaker earnings. ADM has publicly stated it intends to buy back shares as part of a plan to mitigate the impact of the dilution related to its June 2011 equity unit conversion, when the company issued 44 million shares of equity. Although the company has indicated it will adjust the pace of the buybacks in order to manage near-term working capital needs and leverage, the buybacks could still cost about $400 million over the next 12 to 18 months, a period when free cash outflow could be more than $1.5 billion. Operating performance for fiscal 2012 was weaker than we expected, with estimated EBITDA falling by about 17% year over year. The decline largely reflects lower pretax earnings in ADM's oilseed processing segment (albeit stabilizing in the fourth quarter), losses in its corn processing segment due to the weak ethanol market, and lower merchandising and handling earnings. We currently expect EBITDA to further decline by about 5% year over year through June 30, 2013, reflecting the following assumptions: -- Weak ethanol margins at least through the end of calendar 2012 offset a modest rebound in oilseed processing. -- Merchandising and handling earnings remain well below the company's $600 million to $800 million normalized range, given the expectations for a smaller corn corp. -- Free cash outflows of at least $1.5 billion reflecting higher corn prices (December 2012 corn futures are currently trading at about $7.90 per bushel). The ratings on ADM reflect our opinion that the company has a "strong" business risk profile and "intermediate" financial risk profile. Key credit factors in our assessment of the company's business risk profile include its global market positions in agribusiness, its track record in mitigating earnings volatility, and its improving geographic diversity. ADM is one of the world's leading agribusiness companies, with major market positions in oilseed processing, corn milling, and ethanol production. The company is also a leader in the production of biodiesel, soy meal, flour, and other value-added food and feed ingredients. Moreover, the company's various operating segments are in themselves quite broad, and cover, among other things, soybean crushing, peanuts, cotton, corn sweeteners, starches, and ethanol. Although ADM participates in the challenging agribusiness industry, which is characterized by volatility in commodity prices, we believe management's ongoing capital investments in its core business lines will generate meaningful earnings growth over the long-term and increase geographic diversity, thus helping offset earnings volatility. Moreover, cash flow generation tends to be countercyclical, and ADM is able to mitigate periods of weaker earning performance thanks to its liquidity. Liquidity We believe ADM has "strong" liquidity. In all likelihood the company will continue to proactively manage its projected cash needs to ensure sufficient funding sources are in place to meet projected working capital requirements, particularly over the next 12 to 18 months, when the commodity cycle will probably continue to be highly inflationary. Our view of the company's liquidity incorporates the following expectations: We expect liquidity sources (including cash, discretionary cash flow, and revolving credit availability) to exceed uses by 1.5x over the next year. We expect liquidity sources to continue to exceed uses, even if EBITDA were to decline by 30%. We believe the company has an ample equity buffer (about $18 billion net of goodwill as of March 31, 2012) to maintain compliance with its minimal tangible net worth covenant of $5.8 billion. We believe ADM has well-established, solid relationships with its banks and a generally high standing in the credit markets. In our assessment, the company has generally very prudent financial risk management, such that management would proactively ensure continued strong liquidity and be able to anticipate setbacks. ADM has $4.3 billion of committed borrowing capacity backing its commercial paper program. The company had commercial paper outstanding of $1.3 billion as of June 30, 2012, and unused borrowing capacity of $4.4 billion. The company has a $1.4 billion floating-rate note due in August 2012, and we believe the company will either repay or refinance the note with available liquidity. If the company refinances this facility with long-term debt, our credit measures for the company would weaken. Cash sources include readily available cash of at least $500 million, more than $3 billion of available committed borrowing capacity under the company's revolving credit facilities, and annual FFO of more than $2 billion. We believe these, together with RMI, are strong enough to cover the company's capital expenditures of more than $1.5 billion, share repurchases of about $400 million, and unforeseen trading or counterparty losses in its grain merchandising and handling operations. Outlook The negative outlook reflects our opinion that earnings and resultant credit measures may weaken over the next year, during which time the company may elect to continue repurchasing equity. We factor earnings volatility into the ratings, and had expected three-year average leverage to remain between 2.0x to 2.5x, given the company's expected ongoing share repurchase activity. We now believe weak earnings in ethanol (given current corn prices of about $8 bushel) and the merchandising and handling segment may weaken the company's adjusted debt to EBITDA and FFO to debt ratios to closer to 3x and below 30%, respectively, over the next 12 to 18 months. We would consider a lower rating if the company's earnings do not improve, or if its credit measures weaken such that it sustains an adjusted debt to EBITDA of more than 3x and an FFO to debt ratio of 25% over several quarters. We believe this could occur if weaker ethanol and merchandising and handling earnings extend well into calendar 2013 while long-term debt balances increase. If we lower the corporate credit rating, we would also lower the current 'A-1' short-term commercial paper rating to 'A-2'. We would consider revising the outlook to stable if ADM improves its operating performance and sustains adjusted debt to EBITDA at about 2.5x and FFO to total debt at greater than 30%. We would also consider revising the outlook to stable if the company demonstrates a more conservative financial policy, including curtailed share repurchase activity during weak earnings and/or cash flow cycles, and working capital needs are financed with short-term facilities in order to sustain these credit measures given our RMI adjustment. Related Criteria And Research -- Methodology And Assumptions: Liquidity Descriptors For Global Corporate Issuers, Sept. 28, 2011 -- Business Risk/Financial Risk Matrix Expanded, May 27, 2009 -- Standard & Poor's Ratings--And Their Role In The Financial Markets, April 15, 2008 -- Our Rating Process, April 15, 2008 -- 2008 Corporate Criteria: Analytical Methodology, April 15, 2008 -- 2008 Corporate Criteria: Ratios And Adjustments, April 15, 2008 Ratings List Ratings affirmed; Outlook revised To From Archer Daniels Midland Co. Corporate credit rating A/Negative/A-1 A/Stable/A-1 Ratings affirmed Archer Daniels Midland Co. Senior unsecured A Commercial paper A-1
The following factors could affect Italian markets on Thursday.
* LendingTree announces pricing of $265 million of convertible senior notes due 2022
TOKYO, May 25 Asian shares scaled two-year highs on Thursday while the dollar and U.S. bond yields slipped after the U.S. Federal Reserve signalled a cautious approach to future rate hikes and the reduction of its $4.5 trillion of bond holdings.