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Rating Action:

Moody's assigns A2 first-time ratings to Criteria CaixaCorp; stable outlook

08 Jul 2010

Madrid, July 08, 2010 -- Moody's Investors Service has today assigned a first-time A2 issuer rating, with stable outlook, to Criteria CaixaCorp ("Criteria"), a holding company that is majority owned (79.45%) by Caja de Ahorros y Pensiones de Barcelona ("La Caixa", rated Aa2, negative outlook), which holds investments in financial and services companies. La Caixa is the third largest financial group in Spain with total assets of EUR272 billion at end December 2009.

According to Moody's, the key factors underpinning Criteria's rating include the likely support from its parent as well as its own strong financial fundamentals -- namely sound asset quality, good geographical and business diversification -- as well as its firm liquidity position. The rating also incorporates Criteria's moderate leverage.

Criteria is La Caixa's main vehicle for investments in services and financial companies as well as for the group's international expansion. At the end of 2009, Criteria's total gross asset value (GAV) amounted to EUR24 billion, of which EUR17 billion was held in service companies and EUR7.3 billion in financial investments. Criteria has a key role in La Caixa's growth and diversification strategy, particularly in terms of its international expansion -- an area in which La Caixa has ambitions to grow -- and La Caixa has committed itself to maintaining a minimum stake of 51%. In this regard, Criteria aims to achieve a more balanced composition of its portfolio, with financial investments set to increase to 40%-60% of Criteria's GAV.

In line with Moody's "Global Investment Holding Companies" methodology, the main rating factors underpinning the credit analysis of Criteria´s stand-alone rating are: (1) Asset Quality; (2) Management Discipline and Group Transparency; (3) Market Value-Based Leverage; (4) Cash Coverage; (5) Liquidity; and (6) Portfolio Risk.

Moody's assessment of Criteria in terms of these factors is as follows:

(i) Asset Quality: Criteria displays a conservative investment strategy, underpinned by the quality of its core investments (99% are rated and in the investment-grade category), the high financial flexibility of its portfolio (82% are listed investments) and the ample geographic diversification of its core investments.

(ii) Management and Group Transparency: Given the very limited share of cross-holdings and intercompany transactions, Criteria scores highly in this factor. Nevertheless, the company has a high dividend payout ratio and does not publicly disclose the specific actions it might take to pursue its target market-based leverage.

(iii) Market Value-Based Leverage: Criteria has moderate leverage (measured as net debt as a percentage of GAV) which has increased over the past few quarters on the back of higher debt associated with new acquisitions. The company has publicly stated its intention to maintain its leverage ratio below 30%.

(iv) Cash Coverage: Criteria's high score for this factor is underpinned by a recurring dividend stream that more than covers interest payments on a regular cash inflow basis. Moody's expects this dividend stream to remain stable. Although interest paid will increase going forward, Criteria's ability to pay this interest remains very high.

(v) Liquidity: Criteria has a sound liquidity position driven by the sufficient coverage of its funding costs conferred by an undrawn credit line from La Caixa that exceeds EUR2 billion. In addition, Criteria has no debt maturities for 2010-2011 . However, Moody's notes Criteria's limited funding diversification given that a high share of its funding comes from its parent, La Caixa. This reliance has, however, diminished over the past year and management intends to continue working towards further reducing this reliance.

(vi) Portfolio Risk: Criteria has a low score for this factor due to the high weighted-average volatility of the assets in the portfolio and the target market-value-based leverage.

Moody's stable outlook for Criteria's ratings is supported by the quality and liquidity of the company's investment portfolio and the rating agency's confidence in the commitment and ability of Criteria's management to keep leverage below 30%.

The principal methodology used in rating Criteria was Moody's Global Investment Holding Companies, published in October 2007 and available on www.moodys.com in the Rating Methodologies sub-directory under the Research & Ratings tab. Other methodologies and factors that may have been considered in the process of rating this issuer can also be found in the Rating Methodologies sub-directory on Moody's website.

Headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, Criteria CaixaCorp is a holding company with investments in financial and service companies. Its portfolio had a gross asset value of EUR24 billion at the end of December 2009.

London
Johannes Wassenberg
Managing Director
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Ltd.
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454

Madrid
Maria Cabanyes
Senior Vice President
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Espana, S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454

Moody's assigns A2 first-time ratings to Criteria CaixaCorp; stable outlook
No Related Data.
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