MOODY'S PLACES BHP'S A3 SENIOR UNSECURED DEBT RATING UNDER REVIEW
Sydney, March 19, 2001 -- Moody's Investors Service has placed the ratings of certain subsidiaries of BHP Limited (BHP) under review. The Rating review follows the announcement that BHP and Billiton Plc (Billiton; unrated) are planning to combine the groups in a dual-listed merger transaction. In forming the dual listed companies (DLC) structure, cross-guarantees will be put in place between BHP and Billiton such that the creditworthiness of each entity is based on the strengths of the combined enterprise. The transaction is subject to approval of shareholders of both groups and the regulatory authorities in Australia and the UK.
Moody's review will focus on the strategic business and financial implications that the DLC merger will have on BHP. To the extent that the merger transaction develops as anticipated, Moody's expects that BHP's ratings will be confirmed.
The ratings placed under review are:
BHP Finance Ltd (guaranteed) - A3 senior unsecured
BHP Finance (USA) Inc. (guaranteed) - A3 senior unsecured rating
BHP Copper Inc. (guaranteed) - A3 senior subordinate
BHP Operations Inc. (backed) - "baa1" preferred stock rating
Moody's says the combined group will have greater commodity and geographic diversity, which should help to further limit the group's exposure to cyclical swings in any particular commodity, or risk factors relating to a particular region. This should also enhance stability of the group's earnings. Some of Billiton's assets, such as alumina/aluminium are well established with competitive cost positions, reflecting the quality and scale of the operations. While Billiton has fairly aggressive capital structure, Moody's expects that BHP's existing financial policy will be maintained by the merged enterprise, with the group's substantial cash flow projected to exceed capital expenditure over the intermediate term.
Moody's notes, however, that implementation of the DLC structure, in which both BHP and Billiton will retain their corporate identities and continue as separate publicly quoted companies, will involve a degree of integration risk, as the diverse operations are unified under a single management structure.
BHP, based in Melbourne Australia, has diversified activities in mining and petroleum, with sales of A$21.5 billion (for fiscal year 2000). Billiton, a UK listed company with diversified mining operations in aluminium, copper, coal, and other commodities, had group sales of US$5.0 billion for fiscal year 2000.
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