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01 Dec 2003
MOODY'S AFFIRMS AXA'S DEBT RATINGS (SENIOR AT A2) AND Aa3 INSURANCE FINANCIAL STRENGTH RATINGS OF ITS CORE OPERATING SUBSIDIARIES; OUTLOOK REMAINS STABLE
Paris, December 01, 2003 -- Moody's Investors Service affirmed today AXA's debt ratings
(senior at A2), as well as the Aa3 insurance financial strength
ratings of AXA's main operating subsidiaries. The outlook
on AXA's ratings remains stable. Moody's said that
the group's refocusing, re-engineering and expense
savings efforts deployed in the last two years in the face of a challenging
operating environment has helped AXA preserve its global insurance franchise
and financial strength, translating longer term into enhanced earnings
stability and capital formation.
The rating agency commented that its stable rating outlook on the insurance
financial strength ratings of the group's core operating units (AXA
France, AXA Financial in the U.S., AXA UK,
AXA Germany and AXA Belgium) reflects their leading positions in their
respective markets, sound economic solvency and reserving practices,
and their prospects for stable or improved underlying financial performance.
These ratings also remain underpinned by strong management, superior
diversification and distribution, and the on-going recovery
of property and casualty earnings -- thanks to significant improvement
in the group's combined ratio, notably in business lines or
countries where it had been weaker. In life insurance, the
group continues to build on product innovation and advanced asset-liability
management to mitigate the pressure created on its financial margin by
a low interest rate environment. On the other hand, Moody's
said that the rating outlook on AXA's Dutch operations (AXA Leven
and AXA Schade) remains negative reflecting comparatively less strong
fundamentals on a stand-alone basis and a less advantaged competitive
positioning than the group's other operations.
More generally, AXA's ratings also reflect the reallocation
of the group's capital toward more stable and less risky activities
as evidenced by the downsizing of its reinsurance activities, tighter
underwriting discipline for large commercial lines, and selective
divestitures in markets offering less certain long-term profitability
prospects. Prudent capital management, improved underlying
earnings and proceeds from asset sales have allowed AXA to self finance
its growth and capital needs in 2003, while enabling the group to
lower its financial leverage. In addition, whilst AXA's
core indebtedness remains substantial, sound operating cash flow
generation from some of the group's core subsidiaries, prudent
debt management, and ample liquidity provide good debt protection
measures to the group's creditors.
Tempering the group's strengths, Moody's said that AXA's
major challenges include the successful strengthening of its distribution
in key markets given its lack of strong bancassurance links in Europe,
as well as further improvement in operating efficiency. In addition,
the slow recovery of some of AXA's key operations has continued
to constrain the group's earnings. Moody's also pointed
to the fact that lower equity markets have hurt the profitability of its
wealth management operations by negatively affecting fees and commissions,
and have lead to asset impairment provisions in 2002 and the first half
Finally, Moody's noted that, although the group's
solvency has been significantly affected in the last two years by depressed
equity markets, it should gradually recover due to improved earnings,
stronger capital formation, deemphasizing and derisking some of
the more volatile operations, as well as improved equity market
conditions given that the group has maintained its long-term strategic
asset allocation to equities through the downturn. Going forward,
with its financial flexibility stabilized, Moody's said that
AXA appears to be comparatively better positioned than some of its peers
to further expand its franchise given its strong operating platforms,
as demonstrated by the recent tender offer by AXA Financial for MONY Group
Inc. in the U.S.
The following ratings were affirmed with a stable outlook: (I
would put all these in alphabetical order)
AXA -- senior debt at A2, subordinated and junior subordinated
debt at A3; French commercial paper at Prime-1;
AXA Financial Inc. -- senior debt at A3, subordinated
and junior subordinated debt at (P)Baa1;
AXA Financial Capital Trust I -- preferred stock at (P)Baa1;
AXA Financial Capital Trust II -- preferred stock at (P)Baa1;
AXA Financial Capital Trust III -- preferred stock at (P)Baa1;
AXA Financial Capital Trust IV -- preferred stock at (P)Baa1;
Guardian Royal Exchange plc -- guaranteed senior debt at A2;
AXA France Collectives -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA France IARD -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA France Vie -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Lebensversicherung -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Versicherung -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA General Insurance Ltd -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Direct Insurance Ltd -- financial strength at Aa3;
Sun Life Assurance Society Plc -- financial strength at Aa3;
Sun life Pensions Management Ltd -- financial strength at Aa3;
Sun Life Unit Assurance Ltd -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Ireland -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Insurance UK Plc -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Belgium -- financial strength at Aa3;
Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S. -- financial
strength at Aa3 and surplus notes at A2.
The following ratings continue to have a negative outlook:
AXA Leven -- financial strength at Aa3;
AXA Schade -- financial strength at Aa3.
AXA, headquartered in Paris, France, had total consolidated
assets of 450 billion and shareholders' funds of 22.7
billion at June 30, 2003.
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Ltd.
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454
Senior Vice President
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's France S.A.
Telephone:33 1 53 30 10 73
Facsimile:33 1 42 66 32 20
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