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MOODY'S ASSIGNS Aa1 RATING TO PORTLAND'S (ME) $24.9 MILLION G.O. BONDS

15 Aug 2011

Aa1 RATING APPLIES TO $271 MILLION IN OUTSTANDING GO DEBT, INCLUDING CURRENT ISSUE

Municipality
ME

Moody's Rating

ISSUE

RATING

2011 General Obligation Refunding Bonds

Aa1

  Sale Amount

$24,915,000

  Expected Sale Date

08/16/11

  Rating Description

General Obligation

 

Opinion

NEW YORK, Aug 15, 2011 -- Moody's Investors Service has assigned a Aa1 rating to the City of Portland's (ME) $24.9 million 2011 General Obligation Refunding Bonds. Concurrently, Moody's has affirmed the Aa1 rating on the city's $271 million in pre-refunding outstanding general obligation debt.

SUMMARY RATINGS RATIONALE

The Series 2011 bonds are being issued to refund various maturities of the city's Series 2002, 2003 and 2004 Series A bonds for an expected net present value savings of roughly 3.98% of refunded principal, without extension of maturity. The Aa1 rating heavily factors the city's role as one of Maine's (G.O. rated Aa2/stable outlook) and northern New England's primary economic centers. The Aa1 rating incorporates the city's improved, but still narrow, financial position, as well as Moody's belief that the city's financial flexibility will remain constrained in the medium term due to limited growth potential in state aid and local receipts. The rating further incorporates management's proactive approach to resolving financial challenges facing the city and its school system. The city's debt burden is above average, including pension obligation bonds, although the city's long-term pension liability is relatively low. The city's debt profile contains significant variable rate exposure representing 42% of total debt outstanding; the city is also party to an interest rate swap.

STRENGTHS

-Anchor of regional economy

-Carefully managed financial operations with improving reserves

-Adopted financial management policies

-Diverse tax base with redevelopment potential

-Low long-term liability for pension; no liability for OPEB

CHALLENGES

-Limited medium term revenue growth

-Risk related to various municipal enterprises

-Significant variable rate exposure

-Large medium-term borrowing for mandated improvements to address combined sewer overflows (CSO)

DETAILED CREDIT DISCUSSION

DIVERSE TAX BASE DEMONSTRATES RESILIENCE THROUGH RECESSION

Portland, with a $7.9 billion equalized value, is Maine's largest city and functions as the region's economic and cultural center. The city's tax base is 52% residential with a solid 41% commercial and industrial component. Important sectors of the city's broad economy include health care, port activities, financial services, government services, and wholesale and retail trade. The city is home to the headquarters of UNUMProvident Insurance (senior unsecured debt rated Baa3/positive outlook), Maine Medical Center (revenue bonds rated A1), the largest healthcare facility in northern New England and the city's largest employer, and port facilities which contain a major oil and gas terminal, as well as piers for passenger cruise and ferry service. Recessionary pressures have modestly reduced real estate values, resulting in an assessed valuation decline of 2.8% since fiscal 2008, a marked turnaround after annual growth in the prior five-year period which averaged 12.3%. The downturn has dampened the city's redevelopment activity, as reflected in 2010 building permit activity which increased 38% over 2009, but was only 78% of the previous five-year average. Despite this, there are several new redevelopment projects underway throughout the city. As a regional employment center, the city attracts a large number of workers from surrounding communities, which greatly increases its workforce. Unemployment (6.4% in June, 2011) remains well below state (7.4%) and national (9.3%) levels. Moody's believes that in light of the weak economic recovery, prospects for growth in Maine's economy appear modest over the near term. Resident income levels are above those of the state and nation, and full value per capita is a solid $119,496.

WELL-MANAGED FINANCES WITH GROWING RESERVES

After a period of instability which challenged the city's ability to sustain balanced operations and sufficient reserves, Portland's financial position has begun to stabilize. Operations since fiscal 2008 have been positive, resulting in an increase in the General Fund to $29.8 million, or a satisfactory 12.8% of General Fund revenues, and a significant improvement from the fiscal 2007 General Fund balance of $21.3 million, or 10% of revenues. Fiscal 2010 Undesignated General Fund balance stands at an improved $23.6 million, or 10.2% of revenues, a solid improvement over the $12.1 million balance, or 5.7% of revenues, in fiscal 2007. Conservative expenditure management, including reduction of 100 positions citywide, as well as positive variances in state aid and other revenues, offset property and excise tax deficits to produce budgetary surpluses of $2.5 million, $3.7 million and $2.1, respectively, in fiscal 2008, 2009 and 2010. School operations continue to be tight, but the department's new management team maintained a positive school department fund balance of roughly $1 million in fiscal 2010, showing significant progress from the $3.3 million deficit in fiscal 2007. The city is still processing closing transactions for fiscal 2011, however management projects a fourth consecutive surplus with favorable revenue and expenditure performance yielding a modest increase to the General Fund. Notably, the school department has fully replenished the deficit incurred in fiscal 2007 and maintains a comfortable $1 million surplus, which is incorporated in the city's general fund balance.

The adopted fiscal 2012 budget includes a moderate 2.07% expenditure increase and is balanced with a fund balance appropriation of $285,000 for operations and an additional $1 million appropriation proposed for one-time capital needs. Forecasts for limited state aid revenue are incorporated into the budget. Portland's recent success in building fund balance was driven by conservative management of budgeting and expenditures; increasing reliance on reserve appropriations and sustained structural imbalance could result in diminished long-term credit strength. Portland maintains a comfortable $4.7 million cushion in unused property tax levy capacity under Maine's LD-1 property tax limit, which could mitigate anticipated reductions in state aid. The city recently adopted a strengthened fund balance policy which requires unreserved General Fund balance to be maintained at approximately 12.5% of the subsequent year's expenditures; the city is expected to fully comply by fiscal 2015, roughly five years after adoption.

While the steps the city has taken to bolster its financial position are favorable, we believe the city will be challenged to maintain structural balance while augmenting reserves in the medium term as the slow economic recovery continues to impact local and state revenues as well as tax base growth. Portland has maintained favorable financial flexibility, however, despite slowing growth rates as allowed under the LD-1 property tax limitation, which limits levy growth to a factor of state income growth and new property assessments. The combined growth factor for fiscal 2012 totals 2.77%, which has declined gradually from a more ample 5.72% in fiscal 2007. Since adoption, the LD-1 property tax limitation has not pressured the city's fiscal operations as new development activity in 2008 and 2009 resulted in healthy levels of levy growth. Further, the city will not experience pressure to fund increasing pension and OPEB liabilities; the city's unfunded pension liability was transferred to the state in 2001 after the issuance of pension obligation bonds and the city does not offer access to post-employment benefits to its retirees.

ABOVE-AVERAGE DEBT BURDEN REFLECTS THE ISSUANCE OF VARIABLE-RATE POBs

Moody's expects that Portland's above-average direct debt burden (3.4% of full valuation) will remain somewhat elevated in the near term, but will moderate going forward given the city's commitment to limit new debt issues to $10 million annually for general city purposes. Additionally, we expect the city's sewer enterprise to maintain positive operations, including self-support for debt related to the city's sewer system and combined sewer overflow (CSO) projects. The principal retirement rate is below average at 55.1% within 10 years, mostly due to the long-term amortization of the pension obligation bonds. Including overlapping debt for regional water, wastewater and solid waste utilities, the city's overall debt burden is also above average at 3.8%. In 2011 and over the next several years, the city expects to issue roughly $65 million of debt through the state revolving fund to address CSO issues in order to comply with environmental regulations. This significant addition of indebtedness is expected to be serviced by increases in sewer revenues, as are $49 million in outstanding sewer bonds which are not reflected in the debt burden.

A large portion of the city's debt (42%) is represented by variable rate Pension Obligation Bonds (POB) issued in 2001 to eliminate an unfunded pension liability. While the POBs have greatly increased the debt burden they have also eliminated investment performance risk by transferring the long-term pension liability from the city to the state. The POBs, coupled with the city's lack of an OPEB obligation, reflect limited off-balance sheet long-term employee benefit liabilities which compare favorably with other municipalities nationally. Liquidity on the variable rate issue is provided via a Standby Bond Purchase Agreement by Landesbank Hessen-Thueringen Girozentrale (long-term senior unsecured rating Aa1/stable outlook and short term P-1) which expires in 2014. Despite previous market disruption in the VRDO market, Portland's bonds have continued to be successfully remarketed, although the city could face a significant increase in debt service should the POBs become bank bonds, which would be subject to interest rates of up to 15%. Also factored into the city's debt burden is $13.8 million in contingent debt, a moderate portion of which were issued as variable-rate obligations, related to ecomaine (not rated), a regional solid waste authority. Portland and twenty other communities participate in a long-term agreement to deliver solid waste to ecomaine and have pledged their full faith and credit to support the assessments. Portland represents roughly 25% of the district's annual assessments and funds its obligations through a combination of user fees and general fund appropriations.

SIGNIFICANT SWAP EXPOSURE

The city entered into a floating-to-fixed swap to hedge against the variable POBs. The notional amount (currently $111.2 million) declines as principal is paid down on the debt and the term of the swap matches that of the debt. The counterparty agreement was transferred to Bank of New York/Mellon (BNY, rated Aaa/stable outlook) from UBS AG (senior unsecured Aa3/negative outlook) in early December 2010 without any changes in terms or maturity. Under the terms of the swap, BNY pays monthly LIBOR plus 40 basis points and receives an escalating fixed rate (4.919% in September 2001 to 8.903% in June 2012 through the termination date in May of 2026). The fixed rate schedule was reportedly established to match the structure of the pension obligation. If either party's rating falls below A3, the swap could be terminated or collateral posting could be required at a level up to the termination payment. Swap and termination payments are on parity with the city's general obligation bonds. While recent market conditions have resulted in net swap obligations higher than budget, the city had accumulated approximately $2.8 million from prior periods of positive swap performance in a reserve. The balance on the reserve has fluctuated with market conditions and now totals roughly $1 million. The August 9, 2011 estimated mark-to-market value on the swap was negative $68 million (roughly 234% of the city's general fund balance), reflecting in part the high interest rates in the out years. The city has the ability to bond for a termination payment; if they were required to do so under current market conditions, the city's direct debt burden would increase to approximately 4.2% of full value. Favorably, only the city has the option of early termination.

WHAT COULD MOVE THE RATING-UP:

-Improved financial position and enhanced reserve levels

-Reduced exposure to variable rate debt

-Significant tax base expansion and improved demographic profile

WHAT COULD MOVE THE RATING-DOWN:

-Decline in reserves and lack of compliance with financial policies

-Contraction of local economic activity

-Increase in debt levels

KEY STATISTICS:

2009 Population (estimate, US Census): 62,561 (-2.6% since 2000)

2011 Full Valuation: $7.9 billion

Full Value Per Capita: $119,496

2000 Per Capita Income: $22,698 (116.2% of State, 105.1% of US)

2000 Median Family Income: $48,763 (107.9% of State, 97.4% of US)

Unemployment (June 2011): 6.4% (ME 7.4%, US 9.3%)

Direct Debt Burden: 3.2%

Overall Debt Burden: 3.6%

Payout of Principal (10 years): 55.1%

FY10 General Fund Balance: $29.8 million (12.8% of General Fund Revenues)

FY10 Undesignated General Fund Balance: $23.7 million (10.2% of General Fund Revenues)

Post-Sale Long-Term G.O. Debt Outstanding: $269 million (includes $111 million Pension Obligation Bonds)

The principal methodology used in this rating was General Obligation Bonds Issued by U.S. Local Governments published in October 2009. Please see the Credit Policy page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For ratings issued on a program, series or category/class of debt, this announcement provides relevant regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series or category/class of debt or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides relevant regulatory disclosures in relation to the rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides relevant regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

Information sources used to prepare the rating are the following: parties involved in the ratings, parties not involved in the ratings, public information, confidential and proprietary Moody's Investors Service information, and confidential and proprietary Moody's Analytics information.

Moody's considers the quality of information available on the rated entity, obligation or credit satisfactory for the purposes of issuing a rating.

Moody's adopts all necessary measures so that the information it uses in assigning a rating is of sufficient quality and from sources Moody's considers to be reliable including, when appropriate, independent third-party sources. However, Moody's is not an auditor and cannot in every instance independently verify or validate information received in the rating process.

Please see Moody's Rating Symbols and Definitions on the Rating Process page on www.moodys.com for further information on the meaning of each rating category and the definition of default and recovery.

Please see ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for the last rating action and the rating history.

The date on which some ratings were first released goes back to a time before Moody's ratings were fully digitized and accurate data may not be available. Consequently, Moody's provides a date that it believes is the most reliable and accurate based on the information that is available to it. Please see the ratings disclosure page on our website www.moodys.com for further information.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Analysts

Susan Kendall
Analyst
Public Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service

Lauren Von Bargen
Backup Analyst
Public Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service

Geordie Thompson
Senior Credit Officer
Public Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service

Contacts

Journalists: (212) 553-0376
Research Clients: (212) 553-1653


Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
USA

MOODY'S ASSIGNS Aa1 RATING TO PORTLAND'S (ME) $24.9 MILLION G.O. BONDS
No Related Data.
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