BHP Billiton PLC
16 October 2002
Date: 16 October 2002
MOODY'S UPGRADES BHP BILLITON'S RATINGS
The following announcement was made today by Moody's Investors Service:
'MOODY'S UPGRADES BHP BILLITON'S RATINGS (SENIOR UNSECURED TO A2; SHORT-TERM TO
P-1); OUTLOOK STABLE
Approximately $4.8 Billion of Debt Securities Affected.
Moody's Investors Service today upgraded the senior unsecured rating and
short-term rating of BHP Billiton's (BHPB) guaranteed subsidiaries to A2 (from
A3) and P-1 (from P-2) respectively. Moody's also upgraded the preferred stock
rating of BHP Operations Inc to A3 from Baa1. The rating outlook is stable.
Moody's says the rating upgrade reflects BHPB management's successful effort in
combining the group's operations, following the dual listed company merger which
was implemented in June 2001. The rating upgrade also recognises BHPB's well
diversified asset portfolio which cushions the group against the current
weakness in certain commodity prices. In addition the upgrade recognises
management's focus on maintaining a disciplined financial policy and capital
investment framework. At the same time, the A2/P-1 rating reflects BHPB's large
capital expenditure program over the medium term related to the development of
its growth projects, and the impact on earnings and cash flow of the continued
price weaknesses of some of BHPB's commodities. This concludes the review for
possible upgrade commenced on August 24, 2002.
Moody's notes that BHPB management has made considerable progress over the past
15 months in ensuring a smooth transitioning for the merged group, including
combining the operations of the former companies with little disruption,
developing and implementing the strategic framework for the merged group, and
implementing a strong governance framework for capital investment decisions. In
addition, BHPB's senior management has maintained its focus on cost management
initiatives, including merger-related savings of $270m by 2002-03 fiscal year
and targeting an additional $500m of additional cost savings by 2004-05 fiscal
year. These initiatives, combined with management commitment to maintaining a
prudent financial strategy, provide support for the A2/P-1 ratings.
The rating also recognises the credit strength associated with BHPB having well
diversified and high quality commodity assets that enjoy globally competitive
cost positions. This strength will continue to mitigate against weakness in
commodity prices. Reflecting this strength, BHPB produced relatively robust
operating cash flow over 2001-02 despite the difficulties encountered in certain
commodities. Moody's believes that the near term outlook for certain
commodities, such as copper and aluminium, will remain weak pending a meaningful
up-turn in global economic growth but that BHPB is well positioned at the A2
rating level to withstand such challenges.
Moody's notes that BHPB's forecast revenue growth will come from an extensive
pipeline of projects currently planned or under development mainly relating to
petroleum, aluminium and carbon steel materials. These projects will require a
large amount of capital expenditure and involve a degree of execution risk
associated with bringing them on stream to deliver the forecast returns.
Nevertheless, Moody's believes that BHPB maintains a disciplined capital
investment framework that represents marked improvement from the old practices
adopted by the group. The strengthened capital investment framework should
mitigate against execution risk.
Moody's expects some weakening in credit protection measures in 2003 and 2004
fiscal years due to additional debt required to partially fund the planned
capital expenditure. That said, Moody's anticipates a strong recovery in
measures of creditworthiness by 2005, as the new projects come on stream. As a
result Moody's expects that BHPB should be able to maintain solid debt coverage
measures over the next 3-5 years, including retained-cash-flow-to-gross-debt
ratio in the 35%-45% range, even under conservative commodity price scenarios
assumed by Moody's.
BHPB displays a solid liquidity profile that is highlighted by its strong cash
flow generating capacity and reasonably high levels of balance sheet liquidity.
In addition, BHPB maintains an appropriate level of financial flexibility to
cover any potential shortfall in free cash flow over the next 12-24 months,
including access to a committed revolving facility, and management's
demonstrated ability to manage its capital expenditure.
The ratings upgraded are:
BHP Billiton Finance Ltd. (guaranteed) - senior unsecured rating of A2 (from
A3); short term rating of P-1 (from P-2)
BHP Billiton Finance (USA) Ltd. (guaranteed) - senior unsecured rating of A2
BHP Billiton Finance BV (guaranteed) - senior unsecured rating of A2 (from A3)
BHP Copper Inc. (guaranteed) - senior unsecured rating of A2 (from A3)
BHP Operations Inc - Preferred stock rating of A3 (from Baa1)
BHP Billiton is one of the world's largest natural resource companies, with
diversified operations including petroleum, iron ore, alumina/aluminium, energy
and metallurgical coal, and base metals. Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia,
BHP Billiton generated consolidated turnover of US$15.9 billion (excluding joint
ventures) for the 12 months ending 30 June 2002.'
BHP Billiton Limited ABN 49 004 028 077
Registered in Australia
Registered Office: 600 Bourke Street Melbourne Victoria 3000
Telephone +61 3 9609 3333 Facsimile +61 3 9609 3015
BHP Billiton Plc Registration number 3196209
Registered in England and Wales
Registered Office: 1-3 Strand London WC2N 5HA United Kingdom
Telephone +44 20 7747 3800 Facsimile +44 20 7747 3900
The BHP Billiton Group is headquartered in Australia
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