OREANDA-NEWS. Fitch Ratings has taken the following rating actions on Arch Coal, Inc. (Arch Coal; NYSE: ACI) in connection with the expiration of the company's debt exchange offers:

--Issuer Default Rating (IDR) affirmed at 'C';
--Senior secured revolving credit facility downgraded to 'CCC-/RR2' from 'B-/RR2';
--Senior secured term loan downgraded 'CCC-/RR2' from 'B-/RR2';
--Second lien secured notes affirmed at 'C/RR6';
--Senior unsecured notes affirmed at 'C/RR6'.

Roughly $5.4 billion in principal amount of debt and commitments are affected by this action.

The downgrade reflects Fitch's view that a bankruptcy is more likely following the expiration of the exchange offers without executing a distressed debt exchange.

Fitch believes Arch's current capital structure is unsustainable and that restructuring is necessary. Failure to execute a restructuring outside of court would likely result in bankruptcy.



Fitch's analysis is based on a going concern enterprise value of nearly $2.2 billion derived from a $400 million EBITDA and a 5.5x multiple. Fitch assumes administrative claims will be 10% and that concessions will be 5% of the enterprise value. Under this valuation, the first lien senior secured debt, including an estimate of $122.8 million drawn under the $250 million revolver, has superior recovery given default at 89%.

As outlined below in Key Assumptions, Fitch is assuming a fairly slow recovery even though the coal price slide began in earnest in 2012. As such, Fitch does not forecast EBITDA to reach $400 million through 2017 but believes $400 million reflects a conservative long-term estimate. At an EBITDA assumption of $330 million, the senior secured debt has a superior recovery at 73%.

A substantial portion of domestic coal production is in restructuring. Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., Walter Energy, Inc., James River Coal Company, and Patriot Coal Corporation, together, accounted for about 13% of U.S. coal production in 2013 and Arch accounted for an additional 13%. Recently, coal assets have changed hands at very distressed values comprising little or no cash given the need to invest in capital and fund reclamation expenditures as well as legacy pension and other postretirement liabilities.

In contrast to other restructuring companies, Arch benefits from relatively low exposure to employee legacy liabilities and as of December 31, 2015, only six of its 5,000 employees belong to a union. Self-bonding of $458.5 million, $177.7 million surety bonds, and $3.5 million in secured letters of credit support reclamation obligations as of Dec. 31, 2014. These would need to be assumed or replaced in the event of asset sales or an acquisition.


--Production, costs, and capital expenditures within guidance range for 2015;
--Coal prices bottom out in 2015 with scant recovery thereafter;
--No asset sales proceeds are assumed.


Steam coal demand in the U.S. is currently suffering from heavy competition from very low natural gas prices, supply has been disciplined, but stocks are on the high side and prices are soft. Lack of new coal fired power plant builds and shuttering obsolete plants is expected to result in a 10-15% decline in coal production over the medium term. The U.S. steel industry is currently suffering from import competition which weighs on domestic metallurgical (met) coal consumption.

Globally, both met and steam coal markets are in excess supply and prices are weak. Coal producers have been running for cash with a focus on reducing costs which has delayed price recovery. In particular, Fitch believes the hard coking coal bench mark price could average about $95/tonne (t) and the Newcastle steam coal benchmark could be below $60/t over the next 12 months versus current prices of $89/t and $67.80/t respectively. U.S. exports, which peaked at 125 million tons in 2011, are challenged by rail transport to port and the strong U.S. dollar. Fitch expects U.S. exports to drop back into the 50 million ton range over the medium term.


Arch Coal benefits from large, well-diversified operations and good control of low-cost production. Globally, Arch is the sixth largest coal producer based on volumes. The company sold 134 million tons of coal in 2014. As of June 30, 2015, roughly 97% of expected 2015 steam coal production volumes are committed and priced. Assuming no change in sales volume for 2016, about 47% of steam tons are committed and priced. The company has the third largest coal reserve position in the U.S. at 5.1 billion tons.

Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action include:

--Failure to pay debt service within grace periods and or bankruptcy filing would result in a downgrade of the IDR to D.

Positive: Future developments that may lead to a positive rating action include:

--Significant reduction of debt and interest expenses could result in an upgrade.



At June 30, 2015, cash on hand was $440 million, short-term investments were $250 million, and $123 million was available under the company's credit facilities. The $200 million accounts receivable facility has a stated maturity in December 2017. The $250 million revolving credit facility matures in June 2016. Revolver covenants include a maximum net senior secured leverage ratio of 5:1 from June 30, 2015 with step-downs thereafter and a minimum liquidity of $550 million through Dec. 30, 2015. Fitch expects cash and short-term investments to provide sufficient liquidity through 2017.

Fitch estimates the following near term payments:

--$29 million quarterly term loan principal and interest due on Dec. 31, 2015 and March 31, 2016;
--$18 million semi-annual coupon on the $500 million 7.25% notes due on April 1, 2016;
--$89.7 million aggregate semi-annual coupons on the $1 billion 7% notes, the $375 million 9.875% notes and the $1 billion 7.25% notes due on Dec. 15, 2015;
--$14 million semi-annual coupon on the $350 million 8% notes due on Jan. 15, 2016.


Cash burn is expected to continue absent substantial recovery in met coal prices. Under the current capital structure, guidance for cash interest expense is $360 million to $370 million and for capital expenditure is $130 million to $140 million for 2015. Fitch expects cash burn of at least $200 million per year through 2017.


Arch's actions to preserve liquidity since 2012 coupled with three years of losses have resulted in a debt/capital ratio at 77% and a secured debt/EBITDA ratio of more than 7x.

Estimated current scheduled maturities of debt are $34.4 million in 2015, $29.9 million in 2016, $30.1 million in 2017, $1.9 billion in 2018, $1.7 billion in 2019 and $1.5 billion thereafter. The bulk of the 2018 maturity consists of the senior secured term loan due 2018.