MOODY'S WILL ASSIGN A Aaa RATING TO THE NEW EUR 300 MILLION BOND TO BE ISSUED AND AFFIRMS THE Aaa ISSUER RATING AND PRIME-1 SHORT-TERM RATING OF CHARBONNAGES DE FRANCE
Paris, August 22, 2001 -- Moody's Investors Service affirmed the Aaa issuer rating and Prime-1 short-term rating of Charbonnages de France (CdF) and will assign a Aaa rating to the 11-year bond CdF is planning to issue soon. This rating affirmation reflects the EPIC status (Etablissement Public Industriel et Commercial) and the specific missions the entity has to carry out. Also, an additional protective factor for creditors is that this status is very unlikely to be altered in the future or that debt would be assumed by another "Etablissement Public" (public entity), or indeed by the government itself.
CdF is an EPIC created in 1946 to act as a holding company for France's coal mining interests but which also pursues other energy-related activities. Coal mining has been a structurally loss-making activity for a long time due to high operating costs and to the poor quality of remaining coal mines. In the framework of the Pacte Charbonnier National (the national coal pact) drafted under the government's authority and ratified in 1994 by CdF and union organisations, the CdF group has been leading a policy targeting the ceasing of extracting activities by 2005. In return, employees are entitled to early retirement. Meanwhile, CdF is selling off profitable activities to ensure their future and maintain jobs.
The gradual closing down of extracting activities comes with the development of the decommissioning of coal mines in line with the mining law provisions and environmental guidelines. In the longer term, CdF and the group's other EPICs may cease to exist following the vote of a law regulating the transfer of residual rights and obligations (including debt) either to an existing -or new - public entity or to the State itself.
To compensate its structural deficit, the CdF group benefits from the government's financial aid approved by the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) in so far as they contribute to restructuring and ceasing the group's activities. These first come as subsidies to cover the costs of benefits in kind applying to employees and retirees, and also as capital contribution to cover the operating loss for hard coal only. Capital markets are tapped for additional financing needs. As of today CdF has strongly negative shareholder equity and very high debt levels. These are unlikely to improve in the future as the French coal mining's economic environment becomes less and less (supportive).
Still, CdF has been assigned the best ratings by Moody's and its Aaa long-term debt is actually rated at the same level as the French government. Indeed, as an EPIC, CdF cannot file for bankruptcy and would ultimately be supported by the government. This would also obviously apply to another "Etablissement Public" (public entity) assuming CdF's debt subsequently. Moreover, unlike some public entities, which may one day gradually become independent from the government and see their status altered to allow, for instance, the opening of shareholding to other investors, CdF is not expected to see such trend. It is therefore closer to a financing vehicle carrying a public service debt than an operational entity. Such feature would be further enhanced by the company being classified as an administration, when revenues are below 50% of operating costs, probably in 2002 or 2003. Therefore, CdF's Aaa and Prime-1 ratings remain appropriate.
Also, CdF's liquidity is ensured by back-up facilities covering outstanding Commercial Paper issues.
Based in Rueil-Malmaison (France), Charbonnages de France is a public entity which operates the country's coal mines. The group had 2000 revenues of EUR 1.03 billion.
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