Feb 22 - Fitch Ratings assigns a rating of 'AAA' to the following limited
tax general obligation (LTGO) bonds to be issued by the
Port of Seattle (the port), WA.
--$27.3 million refunding LTGO bonds, series 2013A;
--$75.4 million refunding LTGO bonds, series 2013B (taxable).
In addition, Fitch affirms its 'AAA' rating on the following bonds:
--$312 million outstanding LTGOs.
The Rating Outlook is Stable.
The bonds are scheduled for competitive sale on March 12, 2013. Bond proceeds
will refund all or portions of the outstanding LTGO bonds and pay the costs of
The LTGO bonds are secured by the port's full faith, credit and resources
supported by a covenant to levy ad valorem taxes in the port district (King
County) as permitted without a vote. The ad valorem tax pledge securing the LTGO
bonds is constrained by property tax levy growth of 1% per year, plus new
KEY RATING DRIVERS
RESILIENT ECONOMY: The port is coterminous with King County (ULTGOs rated 'AAA'
by Fitch), whose sound economic base is due to its role as a regional employment
and economic center, above-average income levels, and steady population growth.
Unemployment remains above pre-recession levels, but below the state and
TAX BASE CONTRACTION: Taxable assessed value (AV) has declined significantly
since fiscal 2010, although the rate of decline is projected to slow to a modest
0.9% in fiscal 2013. The tax base remains diverse.
AMPLE TAX LEVY CAPACITY: The port maintains ample capacity to meet its payment
obligations (despite the 1% tax levy growth limitation) due to significant
'banked' levy capacity and policies that have limited leveraging.
FAVORABLE DEBT PROFILE: Overall debt ratios are projected to remain low to
moderate after including additional debt issuances to finance the port's share
of Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project.
HEALTHY FINANCIAL PROFILE: Port finances have historically been healthy and are
expected to remain satisfactory in fiscal 2012 (preliminary and unaudited).
COMPETITIVE PRESSURES: The port is one of the nation's largest container ports,
operating in the extremely competitive West Coast port environment, with
shippers continually making adjustments between the various ports and all-water
service to the gulf and east coasts.
The rating is sensitive to shifts in fundamental credit characteristics
including the port's solid financial management practices. The Stable Outlook
reflects Fitch's expectation that such shifts are highly unlikely.
TAX BASE CONTRACTION; AMPLE LEVY CAPACITY
The port's tax base contracted by a cumulative 19.5% from fiscal 2009 through
fiscal 2012, and management has budgeted for a modest 0.9% decline in AV in
fiscal 2013. Despite the downward tax base pressure, AV per capita remains high
and taxpayer concentration is low with the top 10 taxpayers comprising 3.5% of
AV in fiscal 2011.
The port's levy (for general purposes and debt service) may be increased by 1%
per year plus new construction, and is only limited as to rate for the general
portion; this component is well under the limit. The port retains some banked
capacity (about $18.5 million) from previous years when it did not raise the
levy by the full permitted amount.
Additional financial cushion is provided by management's relatively conservative
use of the tax levy and LTGO issuance, maintaining a policy of leveraging no
more than 75% of the levy for debt service. For fiscal 2013, the budgeted GO
bond debt service is equal to about 55% of the budgeted levy. The remainder is
budgeted, as is typical, for non-revenue generating seaport and real estate
infrastructure, environmental mitigation, and the regional freight mobility
Future leveraging is expected, as the port is a partner in Seattle's Alaskan Way
Viaduct replacement project and has committed to providing up to an additional
$281 million for the project. Most of the cost is expected to be bond funded
after the series 2011 (taxable) bonds are repaid in 2015.
King County benefits from a diverse economy and tax base that encompasses almost
29% of the state's population. The county includes the Pacific Northwest's
largest city, Seattle, and serves as a regional economic center. Wealth and
income levels are above national averages, and TAV is high at $161,000 per
King County performed better than many regions nationally in the recent
downturn, but its economy continues to face challenges. Employment levels were
stagnant during much of 2011, although modest but steady gains in the past year
offer encouragement that a recovery is taking hold. The county's unemployment
rate of 6.1% (December 2012) compared favorably to state (7.7%) and national
(7.6%) averages. Stabilization in home values will likely take much longer,
though the county has seen recent improvements in median home prices and home
FAVORABLE DEBT PROFILE
Direct debt levels are modest at a low 0.1% of market value and projected to
remain low following the port's anticipated issuance of up to $275 million LTGO
bonds in fiscal 2016 for the Alaskan Way Viaduct project. Overall debt is stable
at 2% of market value and $3,213 per capita.
The port has consistently made its full annually required pension contribution,
which was a manageable 2.4% of spending in fiscal 2011 (excluding depreciation).
HEALTHY FINANCIAL PROFILE
The port's overall fiscal strength is evident in its diverse operating revenue
stream, which for 2012 (preliminary and unaudited) was led by the airport ($385
million, or 74%), seaport ($103 million, or 20%) and real estate ($32 million,
or 6%) divisions. Unaudited financial results (preliminary) for fiscal 2012
reflect net operating income (before depreciation) of $225 million.