April 3, 2014 / 6:18 PM / 5 years ago

Fitch Rates Morocco's OCP 'BBB-'; Proposed Notes 'BBB-(EXP)'

(The following statement was released by the rating agency) LONDON, April 03 (Fitch) Fitch Ratings has published the Moroccan fertiliser producer OCP S.A.'s (OCP) Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of 'BBB-' with Stable Outlook. The agency has simultaneously assigned OCP's proposed issue of notes an expected senior unsecured rating of 'BBB-(EXP)'. The notes are rated at the same level as OCP's IDR as they will be direct, unconditional and unsecured obligations of OCP and will rank pari passu will all existing and future senior unsecured and unsubordinated obligations of the issuer. The assignment of the final rating is contingent on the receipt of final documentation conforming to information already received. Proceeds will be used to fund OCP's capital expenditure programme and for general corporate purposes. The ratings reflect OCP's vertical integration, competitive cost position, exceptionally large ore reserves, and its leading market positions in phosphoric acid and phosphate rock. The ratings also capture the progress to date on OCP's transformational expansion strategy, which should translate in the near term into material cost savings, capacity increases and enhanced product diversification and production flexibility. Constraints include the group's exposure to the phosphate fertiliser cycle; in particular investment spending is peaking at a time when market conditions are softening. Given its 94% state ownership and strategic importance for the Moroccan economy, OCP's IDR cannot be higher than Morocco's Country Ceiling of 'BBB'. The Stable Outlook reflects our view that the group has sufficient flexibility to maintain credit metrics commensurate with its ratings through to 2016, despite volatile pricing conditions and its high investment requirements. KEY RATING DRIVERS Moderate Rebound from 2013 Trough Our base rating case assumes a marginal pricing improvement on the 2013 averages for phosphate products. Prices have increased so far in 2014, driven by strong demand from Brazil, stock building ahead of the planting season and supply disruptions in the Middle-East and North Africa. Low demand from India and exports from China remain key potential downside risks. While visibility on India's 2014/15 fertiliser subsidy remains clouded by its economic downturn, we assume a moderate rebound from 2013 levels given depleted phosphate stocks in the country. Chinese exports could disrupt the market in 2H14, particularly after a reduction in the phosphates export tariffs. Pipeline to Enhance Cost Position Our 2014 base case incorporates the commissioning of the 234km slurry pipeline that links OCP's Khourigba phosphate rock mine to the processing hub of Jorf Lasfar. Construction works have been completed and the pipeline is under trial runs. With an annual capacity of up to 35 million tonnes (mt), it should considerably reduce requirements for energy, water, and road and rail transportation. We forecast an improvement in profitability in 2014, reflecting the enhanced cost base and, to a lesser extent, higher capacity utilisation rates and lower raw material costs. Under our base case, EBITDA margin is projected to increase to and remain above 30% from 2014 onwards, from 23% in 2013. Given its near-term positive effect on the group's cost position, we regard the successful launch of the pipeline as a key rating driver. Progress on Transformational Capex Programme In our view, the execution risk associated with the 2008-2016 phase of OCP's investment programme (including the slurry pipeline) has reduced materially with the progress made to date. The expansion of the mines (open pit) and beneficiation plants will yield a 5mt increase in annual phosphate rock production capacity to 35.1mt by 2016. At Jorf Lafsar, OCP has built two granulation plants with an annual aggregate capacity of 1.7mt and is completing four identical fully integrated fertiliser production units of 1mt each to be commissioned starting 2014 and through to 2016. In parallel, Jorf Lasfar's port infrastructure and storage facilities are also being expanded. Leverage Increases on High Capex OCP's fund from operations (FFO) gross and net adjusted leverage increased to 3.5x and 2.7x respectively at end-2013, from 1.5x and 0.8x. This is slightly above the upper limit for the current ratings and reflects record investment levels (MAD21bn) and poor market conditions in 2013. Under our base case, net leverage is sustained within the expected range at 2.0x-2.5x over 2014-2016. This assumes annual capex sustained at an average of MAD22bn (partly debt-funded), which in our view can be scaled back in the event of a downturn. This also assumes a gradual improvement in operating cash flow generation primarily on the back of the cost efficiencies and new capacity. Sound Liquidity At end-2013, OCP had cash and cash equivalent reserves of MAD6bn against short- term debt of MAD5.9bn. Liquidity was also supported by long-term committed unused facilities totalling MAD7.7bn. The company also had short-term investment (tenors above 90 days) of MAD4.6bn. Under our base case, free cash flow (FCF) is expected to remain negative due to the high capex levels and we assume that OCP will continue to access the domestic and international bank and debt capital markets for its investment and refinancing needs. Other cash requirements include contributions to its private pension plan and dividend payments, which we believe can be tailored to match fluctuations in the group's cash flow generation. Exposure to Cyclicality and Volatility OCP is less diversified across nutrients than some of its competitors and its ratings are constrained by its exposure to phosphate fertilisers cycle. While demographic growth and reduced arable land support long-term demand fundamentals for fertilisers, volatility in pricing and demand is strong and dictated by factors outside of producers' control. Erratic demand patterns from key consumers (e.g. India), adverse weather conditions or capacity additions can translate into material dips in cash flow generation. In mitigation, improvements in cost position, production flexibility and arbitrage options should afford OCP an increasing degree of flexibility during market downturns. State Ownership Despite its 94% state-ownership, OCP's ratings are not linked to that of Morocco (BBB-/Stable). We have assessed the operating and legal ties under Fitch's Parent and Subsidiary Rating Linkage methodology and regard them as weak. We view the group's ongoing transformation and strategic focus as evidence of an independently run profit-oriented business model with little influence from the state. Nevertheless, given OCP's strategic importance for the Moroccan economy, negative pressure on the sovereign's rating may have implications for OCP and would lead us to review the government's stance towards the group. Any resulting adverse changes to the credit standing of OCP could lead to a negative rating action. Key Man Risk The departure of Mr Mostafa Terrab, OCP's CEO and Chairman, and resulting succession risk could put pressure on the ratings. Although we recognise the high calibre and experience of the senior management team, Mr Terrab's vision and influence are critical to the successful execution of OCP's expansion strategy. RATING SENSITIVITIES Positive: Although not envisaged over the next one to two years, future developments that could lead to positive rating action include: - Successful completion of the expansion programme with fundamental improvements in OCP's resilience to phosphate cyclicality - Net FFO net adjusted leverage sustained below 1.5x; and - Positive FCF generation through the cycle Negative: Future developments that could lead to negative rating action include: - EBITDA margins dropping below 15% (FY13: 23%) and/or FFO net leverage sustained above 2.5x indicating fundamental trends contrary to the base rating case - Departure of Mr Terrab and resulting succession risk - Pressure on Morrocco's ratings (BBB/Stable) accompanied by evidence of upstreaming or retention of cash (dividends, taxation) or strategic changes adverse to the credit standing of the group Contact: Principal Analyst Sara Salomoni Analyst +44 20 3530 1641 Supervisory Analyst Myriam Affri Director +44 20 3530 1195 Fitch Ratings Limited 30 North Colonnade London E14 5GN Committee Chairperson Peter Archbold, CFA Senior Director +44 20 3530 1172 Media Relations: Francoise Alos, Paris, Tel: +33 1 44 29 91 22, Email: francoise.alos@fitchratings.com; Peter Fitzpatrick, London, Tel: +44 20 3530 1103, Email: peter.fitzpatrick@fitchratings.com. Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com. For regulatory purposes in various jurisdictions, the supervisory analyst named above is deemed to be the primary analyst for this issuer; the principal analyst is deemed to be the secondary. Applicable criteria, 'Corporate Rating Methodology', dated 5 August 2013, are available at www.fitchratings.com. Applicable Criteria and Related Research: Corporate Rating Methodology: Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent and Subsidiary Linkage here Additional Disclosure Solicitation Status here ALL FITCH CREDIT RATINGS ARE SUBJECT TO CERTAIN LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS. PLEASE READ THESE LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK: here. IN ADDITION, RATING DEFINITIONS AND THE TERMS OF USE OF SUCH RATINGS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE AGENCY'S PUBLIC WEBSITE 'WWW.FITCHRATINGS.COM'. PUBLISHED RATINGS, CRITERIA AND METHODOLOGIES ARE AVAILABLE FROM THIS SITE AT ALL TIMES. FITCH'S CODE OF CONDUCT, CONFIDENTIALITY, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, AFFILIATE FIREWALL, COMPLIANCE AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE 'CODE OF CONDUCT' SECTION OF THIS SITE. FITCH MAY HAVE PROVIDED ANOTHER PERMISSIBLE SERVICE TO THE RATED ENTITY OR ITS RELATED THIRD PARTIES. DETAILS OF THIS SERVICE FOR RATINGS FOR WHICH THE LEAD ANALYST IS BASED IN AN EU-REGISTERED ENTITY CAN BE FOUND ON THE ENTITY SUMMARY PAGE FOR THIS ISSUER ON THE FITCH WEBSITE.

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