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Moody's: U.S. electric utilities stable but face increasing regulatory uncertainty

Global Credit Research - 03 Aug 2010

New York, August 03, 2010 -- The U.S. utility sector's fundamental credit conditions remain stable but regulatory challenges could increasingly exert longer-term pressure on the industry, says Moody's Investors Service in a new report.

"Proposals by U.S. policy makers for cleaner power generation and more efficient delivery systems are likely to require significant and costly upgrades that will require recovery from consumers," said Moody's Senior Vice President Jim Hempstead, author of the report, a six-month update on the rating agency's annual sector outlook report. "Those costs, especially amidst a relatively weak recovery with still-high unemployment could contribute to increasing consumer pushback."

If that occurs and it prompts regulators to limit how much utilities can recover from their customers, Hempstead cautioned that companies' credit profiles might weaken as a result.

Also, the continuing slow pace and fragmented nature of legislative and regulatory developments make it difficult for utilities to make long-term investment decisions.

"The slow pace of change, however, gives companies time to adjust to new policies and regulation," said Hempstead. 'But the sector's financial profile could become too weak to support current ratings if adverse conditions develop such as a deterioration in regulatory relationships, capital expenses increase dramatically, or access to capital markets closes."

Moody's said the sector's financial profile has remained relatively stable over the past few years, even as the recession reduced electric demand and the financial market crisis temporarily limited access to capital for many non-regulated industrial companies.

"As for now," said Hempstead, "capital markets remain accessible, especially for regulated utilities in the A-rated category that issue secured debt, and near-term liquidity for U.S. investor-owned electric utilities appears adequate."

The Moody's report cautions that maintaining capital market access is critical given pending expirations of credit facilities and sizeable capital investment plans, which are expected to be financed primarily with debt.

The report, "U.S. Electric Utilities Stable But Face Increasing Regulatory Uncertainty," is available at moodys.com.

* * * * *

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS ONLY: For more information please contact New York Press Information +1-212-553-0376; EMEA Press Information in London +44-20-7772-5456; Juan Pablo Soriano in Madrid +34-91-310-1454; Alex Cataldo in Milan +39-02-914-81-100; Eric de Bodard in Paris +331-5330-1076; Detlef Scholz in Frankfurt +49-69-707-30-700; Mardig Haladjian in Limassol +357-25-586-586; Alex Sazhin in Moscow +7-495-228-60-60; Petr Vins in Prague +4202 2422 2929; Tokyo Press Information +813-5408-4110; Hilary Parkes in Toronto +1-416-214-1635; Hong Kong Press Information +852-2916-1350; Hector Lim in Sydney +612 9270 8102; Luiz Tess in São Paulo +5511-3043-7300; Alberto Jones Tamayo in Mexico City +5255-1253-5700; Daniel Rúas in Buenos Aires +54 11-4816-2332 ext. 105; Craig Jamieson in Johannesburg +27-11-217-5470; Jehad el-Nakla in Dubai +971 4 401 9536; or visit our web site at www.moodys.com

New York
James Hempstead
Senior Vice President
Infrastructure Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

New York
William L. Hess
MD - Utilities
Infrastructure Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

Moody's Investors Service
250 Greenwich Street
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USA

Moody's: U.S. electric utilities stable but face increasing regulatory uncertainty
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