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Rating Action:

MOODY'S LOWERS AVECIA'S SENIOR SUBORDINATED NOTES TO B3; SENIOR IMPLIED AND SENIOR SECURED RATINGS AT B1; OUTLOOK STABLE

28 May 2002
MOODY'S LOWERS AVECIA'S SENIOR SUBORDINATED NOTES TO B3; SENIOR IMPLIED AND SENIOR SECURED RATINGS AT B1; OUTLOOK STABLE

Approximately GBP 640 million of debt securities affected.

New York, May 28, 2002 -- Moody's Investors Service today lowered the ratings of Avecia Group PLC ("Avecia") and changed the outlook to stable. The rating action reflects continuous weak demand in the electronics industry; limited prospects for any material improvement in debt protection measures given the group's significant capital investments and its priority on growth; and the heightened business risk following the disposal of the Stahl division and the recently announced large capital investments in biotechnology.

Ratings lowered are as follows:

- The US$ 540 million in senior notes of Avecia Group PLC lowered to B3 (from B2).

- The senior implied rating for Avecia Group PLC lowered to B1 (from Ba3).

- The rating assigned to the bank debt facilities for Avecia Investments Ltd lowered to Ba3 (from Ba2).

- The senior unsecured issuer rating for Avecia Group PLC lowered to B3 (from B2).

- The preferred stock rating on the US$45m PIK Preference shares for Avecia Group PLC lowered to Caa1 (from B3).

Avecia's recent operating performance and profitability has been hit by weak demand in agrochemicals and intermediate products, in the fine chemicals division as well as continuous inventory de-stocking at equipment manufacturers, in electronic materials which altogether lead to an operating loss in the first quarter of 2002. However, the second half of the year is anticipated to improve, especially in the biotechnology segment, with customer orders usually taking place during this period. The rating agency also notes that these two businesses (electronics materials and fine chemicals) are very cyclical and that the market outlook remains uncertain.

At the same time, however, Moody's still views Avecia's business portfolio, degree of geographic and business diversity and focus on higher growth and margin businesses as positive. Moody's also expects a reduced likelihood of further fully debt financed acquisitions and large capital investments going forward given the significance of the group's recent stated CAPEX plans, illustrated by its GBP 70 million investment programme to build Biologics medicines facilities at Billingham in the UK. Although aimed at generating growth for the group, Moody's believes that this investment will increase the group's business risk profile through the "speculative" characteristics of the project and the medium-term nature of its cash flow generation.

Moody's B3 rating on the USD 540 m notes reflects the structural subordination of the notes relative to a significant amount of secured bank facilities available to Avecia and the subsidiaries of the group. The Ba3 rating on the bank facilities remains notched up from the B1 Senior Implied rating reflecting the favourable collateral package made available to the banks. Avecia's liquidity is sound with current headroom (as of 31 march 2001) of around GBP 91m with nonetheless expectations of a reduction in the group's liquidity due to forthcoming capital investments.

As of March 31, 2002, Avecia generated LTM sales of GBP 744.4 million and operating profit of GBP million. Net debt/EBITDA is 5.0x and (EBITDA-CAPEX)/Cash interest expense is 0.9x. Moody's expects these debt protection measures to further deteriorate going forward as a result of the group's increased CAPEX plans and the reduction in EBITDA coming from the Stahl disposal (November 2001) and to be weaker than previously anticipated for 2002 with expectations of Net debt/EBITDA in the 6x range for 2002, more in line with a B1 senior implied rating with these business characteristics.

The stable outlook assumes improved operating performance (compared with the first quarter levels) and adequate liquidity.

Avecia Group PLC is domiciled in Manchester, United Kingdom, and is a holding company for a diversified specialty chemicals group generating 2001 consolidated revenues of GBP 815 million.

Paris
Eric de Bodard
Managing Director
Corporate Finance Group
Moody's France S.A.
33 1 53 30 10 20

London
Donald Burri
Senior Vice President
Corporate Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service Ltd.
44 20 7772 5454

No Related Data.
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