November 9, 2012 / 9:11 PM / 5 years ago

TEXT - S&P cuts Western Union Co rating to 'BBB+'

     -- The global market for money transfer is becoming increasingly 
competitive, forcing Western Union Co. to cut prices to retain or grow
its current market share. 
     -- At the same time, the company announced a 25% increase in dividends 
and board authorization for $550 million of additional share repurchases. 
Given our expectation for lower earnings over the coming year, we view this 
decision as a sign that management is becoming increasingly aggressive with 
its liquidity position in order to enhance shareholder value.
     -- As a result, we are lowering the long-term issuer credit rating on 
Western Union Co. to 'BBB+' from 'A-'.
     -- We also revised our ratings outlook to negative from stable. Western 
Union's price-cutting strategy could lead to sustained lower earnings. Unless 
the company can return to the stronger earnings and cash flows it produced in 
the past few years and fund and its shareholder initiatives without increasing 
its financial leverage or depleting cash, we could lower the rating.

Rating Action
On Nov. 9, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered its long-term 
issuer credit Englewood, Colo.-based Western Union Co. (WU) to 'BBB+' from 
'A-'. At the same time, we revised the outlook to negative from stable.

The downgrade is based on the increasingly competitive market for money 
transfer, price cutting that we expect to limit earnings over the next year, 
compliance changes that have affected the U.S. to Mexico and other Latin 
American money-transfer corridors, and management's decision to increase 
dividends and share repurchases despite the more challenging conditions. 

The global money transfer business has recently become more competitive, 
resulting in market-share challenges in several money-transfer corridors for 
WU. The company also faces competition from electronic channels--including 
digital and account-based money transfers--in which WU is a smaller 
participant but growing quickly. WU's business has also slowed as a result of 
compliance changes affecting the U.S. to Mexico and other Latin American 
money-transfer corridors. The company has ended its agreement with more than 
7,000 agents (40% of its total agents in Mexico) that were not meeting new 
compliance requirements. In light of this slowdown for WU's money-transfer 
business, the company announced a new strategy that includes cutting prices 
and cost-savings initiatives. We factored into our assumptions a low 
double-digit decline in EBITDA and expect debt to adjusted EBITDA to rise to 
mid-to-high 2x over the next two years.

Management's focus on building shareholder value is moderately aggressive, in 
our view, especially in light of these new developments. Since 2009, WU has 
repurchased approximately $2.2 billion in shares. Including the recently 
announced $550 million share repurchases authorization, WU can repurchase up 
to $750 million through 2013. The quarterly dividend per share gradually 
increased over the past couple of years, and, under the new shareholder plan, 
the quarterly dividend has again increased by 25% to $0.125. WU has maintained 
a stable financial profile while actively repurchasing shares since becoming a 
public company; however, the continuation of repurchases despite negative 
developments supports our view that the firm is taking an increasingly 
aggressive financial posture.

Our ratings on WU are based on the strength of the company's premier money 
transfer franchise--still by far the market leader--its history and proven 
ability to generate strong and consistent cash flow and earnings, and its 
relatively low exposure to credit, interest rate, and liquidity risks. 

The outlook is negative. New competition and compliance changes create 
uncertainty over the next two years in terms of WU's market share, 
profitability, and cash flow. Specifically, WU's price-cutting strategy could 
lead to lower earnings for a sustained period. We could lower the ratings if 
WU loses market share, or cannot regain the stronger earnings and cash flows 
it has produced the past few years, following the declines we expect in 2013. 
The current rating also depends on WU's ability to fund its shareholder 
initiatives with cash flows. We expect debt to adjusted EBITDA will rise to 
mid-to-high 2x. We could lower the rating if debt to adjusted EBITDA exceeds 
2.75x on a sustained basis. We could revise the outlook to stable if the 
company's pricing cuts result in an improved competitive position and the 
company maintains debt to adjusted EBITDA below 2.5x on a sustained basis.

Related Criteria And Research
Rating Finance Companies, March 18, 2004

Ratings List
Downgraded; Ratings Affirmed


                                        To                 From
Western Union Co. (The)
 Issuer Credit Rating                   BBB+/Negative/A-2  A-/Stable/A-2
 Senior Unsecured                       BBB+               A-
Ratings Affirmed

Western Union Co. (The)
 Commercial Paper                       A-2
0 : 0
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