S&P: American Electric Power Co. Inc. Ratings Raised And Placed On Watch Positive On Sale Of Merchant Generation Assets
"The rating action reflects the reduced contribution of AEP's merchant generation operation overall along management's strategy to grow the company primarily through lower-risk regulated utility operations," said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Dimitri Nikas. Additionally, the potential for higher ratings is dependent upon the successful close of the sale of about 5,200 MW of the company's merchant generation capacity, which could lead to an improved business risk profile.
The ratings on AEP reflect our assessments of the company's currently strong business and significant financial risk profiles. Moreover, the ratings on AEP reflect our view that the company's business risk profile is improving, given the declining contribution of the merchant assets, management's explicit strategy to primarily grow through lower-risk regulated utility operations, and plans to eliminate the remaining merchant generation exposure.
We expect AEP's financial risk profile to remain robust and well within the significant financial risk profile category. Under our base-case scenario, which assumes that the asset sale closes in first-quarter 2017, generating about $1.6 billion of cash after tax, but before any debt repayments, we expect that AEP will achieve funds from operations (FFO) to debt of about 18% and debt to EBITDA of consistently below 4.5x, with both measures readily supporting the company's significant financial risk profile assessment.
The CreditWatch listing with positive implications on AEP and its subsidiaries reflects the potential for higher ratings in the next three to six months upon the close of the sale of 5,200 MW of merchant generation capacity that would lead to an improvement of the company's business risk profile, while the company maintains FFO to debt of about 18%.
We could affirm the ratings if AEP's business risk remains unchanged while its financial risk profile remains toward the middle of the significant category, with FFO to debt of 15%-20%. Alternatively, we could affirm the ratings if the business risk profile improves but FFO to debt consistently weakens to below 15%.
Upon the close of the transaction, expected in the next three to six months, we could raise the issuer credit rating on AEP and its subsidiaries by one notch, reflecting improvement in business risk stemming from the sale of a portion of its merchant generation assets while the company maintains FFO to debt of about 18% or consistent with the middle of the range for the significant financial risk profile category.