MOODY'S OUTLOOK FOR UK WATER SECTOR UNCHANGED BY REGULATORS DRAFT PRICE DETERMINATIONS
London, July 27, 1999 -- Moody's Investors Service today announced that the UK water regulator's draft pricing determinations are broadly in line with expectations, with no immediate impact on ratings. Nevertheless, the proposed reductions in allowed revenues represent significant challenges to companies for further improvement in their operating and capital efficiencies, particularly for those companies identified as being less efficient relative to their peers.
Today, water regulator Ofwat announced "draft determinations" for the water and waste water companies in England and Wales. These determinations re-set the tariffs applicable in the next five-year pricing period commencing April 2000. In contrast to the previous ten years since privatisation, customers will now enjoy lower bills. The proposed reductions in allowed revenue come at a time when the industry is obliged to fund an increased capital investment programme. Ofwat has announced capital expenditures of GBP 15 billion for the five year period, of which around GBP 6 billion relates to infrastructure maintenance and GBP 7 billion to improve drinking water quality and waste water treatment.
Moody's rates eight of the ten water and waste water companies. These face an average 13% reduction in tariffs from April 2000, with broadly stable prices thereafter, equivalent to an average 3% annual reduction in real terms over the period. Across the sector, average domestic bills of GBP249 are expected to fall in real terms to around GBP211 by 2004/5.
Companies now have until 30 September to respond to these draft determinations, with final tariffs to be published by the end of November. Should companies not accept the proposals, the matter would probably be referred to the new Competition Commission. Today's announcements, although detailed, still require substantial clarification and there is likely to be some room for manoeuvre. However, it is clear that the regulator has retained the tough stance outlined last year in "Prospects for Prices", particularly in his assumptions of Cost of Capital.
Around half our ratings have a stable outlook. For those with a negative outlook, the final determination of tariffs will be an important factor behind the pace and scale of any downward ratings movements, likely to be confined to one ratings notch. This is especially true for the multi-utilities (Hyder, United Utilities and Scottish Power) which are also exposed to the electricity distribution pricing review. Ofgem, the energy regulator, is expected to announce draft determinations on 12 August. The ratings of Southern Water Services Limited (A1) remain on review for possible downgrade in connection with the acquisition of US utility Pacificorp by Southern's parent Scottish Power plc (Aa3, on review for possible downgrade). However, of equal importance will be management strategy in terms of dividend policy, pursuit of non-core business opportunities and the possibility of corporate restructuring or further acquisition activity.
Ratings in the sector remain underpinned by the natural monopoly activities of the companies, which enjoy low business risk. The scope for domestic competition is minimal, and while competition for large customers is evolving, this is a slow process. Typically, companies in the sector are strongly focused on core activities, with relatively little non-core exposure that would carry higher business risk profiles. Despite periodic corrections, the regulatory regime remains relatively supportive. The water regulator has a duty to ensure efficient companies can finance themselves, and a "ring-fence" mechanism protects bondholders at the regulated operating companies. The ringfence does not extend to the PLC parent companies however, which are structurally subordinated and are therefore rated lower than their operating subsidiaries.
Moody's long-term ratings of water and waste water companies are as follows:
Anglian Water plc A2; outlook stable
Anglian Water plc guaranteed by Anglian Water Services Ltd. A1; outlook stable
Hyder Plc Baa1; outlook negative
Dwr Cymru Cyfyngedig (and guaranteed debt of Welsh Water Utilities Finance Plc) A2; outlook negative
Severn Trent Plc A1; outlook negative
Southern Water Services Finance Plc (guaranteed by Southern Water Services Ltd) A1 on review for possible downgrade.
Thames Water Plc (and guaranteed debt of Thames Water Finance B.V.) A1; outlook stable.
Thames Water Utilities Finance Plc (guaranteed by Thames Water Utilities Ltd) Aa3 outlook stable.
United Utilities PLC A2; outlook negative
North West Water Limited A1; outlook negative
Wessex Water Services Finance plc (guaranteed by Wessex Water Services Limited) A3; outlook stable
Azurix Europe Ltd. Baa1; outlook negative
Yorkshire Water plc A2; outlook stable
Yorkshire Water plc (guaranteed by Yorkshire Water Services Ltd) A1; outlook stable
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