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Rating Action:

Moody's upgrades Delta Air Lines: CFR to Ba2, outlook positive

23 Jun 2015

New York, June 23, 2015 -- Moody's Investors Service upgraded most of its ratings of Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Delta"), including the Corporate Family Rating to Ba2 from Ba3, Senior Secured rating assigned to corporate obligations to Baa3 from Ba1 (LGD2), Senior Unsecured to Ba3 (LGD4) from B1 (LGD5) and most of the Enhanced Equipment Trust Certificate ("EETC") ratings. Moody's also upgraded the rating on the company's privately-placed term loan secured by five Airbus A330 aircraft to Baa2 from Baa3 and affirmed the SGL-1 Speculative Grade Liquidity Rating. The rating outlook is positive.

RATINGS RATIONALE

"The upgrade to Ba2 reflects Moody's expectation of noticeably stronger credit metrics through 2015, derived from the company's long-running focus on reducing funded debt, effective capacity management and significantly lower fuel expenses," said Vice President - Senior Credit Officer, Jonathan Root. Moody's anticipates that Delta will be the industry's leader in free cash flow generation this year and next, producing about or above $3.0 billion annually, about 10% higher than United Airlines' in 2015 and more so in 2016. "The consolidation in the US airline industry that has occurred since 2007 has reduced industry risk. However, the similar strategy of pursuing acceptable returns on invested capital has been the bigger contributor to the improved creditworthiness of the US airlines, including Delta," continued Root. The Ba2 rating also considers Delta's strengthened balance sheet that significantly lowers financial risk and enhances cash flow from operations. Funded debt of about $9.6 billion at 31 March 2015 is $1.7 billion less than at 31 December 2013; reported annual interest expense declined by $250 million to about $595 million during this period. Adjusted debt of $30.1 billion increased by about $1.7 billion during this period because of an about $2.4 billion increase in pension underfunding. The reported debt and interest expense amounts are down from $17.2 billion and almost $1.3 billion, respectively, since 2009. Delta also has competitive, if not leading, operating profit margins while operating one of the oldest fleets in the industry; although its aggregate fuel expense in 2015 will be uncompetitive because of out of the money fuel hedges. The composition of the company's fuel hedging program increased its fuel expense by about $1.0 billion since the third quarter of 2014.

The positive outlook anticipates that credit metrics can further strengthen through 2016. Moody's believes that Delta will continue to whittle down its funded debt, albeit at a slower pace than in recent years, since it is close to achieving its recently-announced net debt target of $4.0 billion (about $8 billion on a gross basis). A global macroeconomic shock that leads to wide-spread declines in passenger demand is the most significant risk to upwards rating pressure. Moody's also believes that industry-wide increases in the cost of jet fuel can mostly be covered by higher fares as long as demand remains about steady. Moody's Oil & Gas team is forecasting average Brent of $65 per barrel for 2016, up from its forecast of $55 per barrel for 2015. Estimated cash flow from operations of more than $7.0 billion in 2015 provides a significant cushion to absorb adverse costs of fuel or declines in demand given the company's annual capital expenditures, planned at $2.9 billion for years to come and the current dividend that will consume about $350 million in 2015. Moody's anticipates additional reductions of funded debt during the next 12 to 18 months as free cash flow is split between debt repayment and shareholder returns. Pressure on fares in the company's trans-Pacific network is a secondary risk because a number of foreign carriers are looking to introduce service or expand capacity. However, Moody's anticipates that consolidated revenues will not face significant pressure in upcoming quarters from these maneuvers.

Of the ten A-tranche EETCs outstanding, six have been upgraded by one notch in step with the upgrade of the Corporate Family rating, the NWA 2000-1 A tranche by two notches and the remainder have been affirmed. The six B-tranches outstanding were upgraded one notch. The ratings of the EETCs consider our estimates of the relative attractiveness or demand for particular aircraft models and vintages under a reorganization scenario, our estimates of loan-to-value and presence of cross-default and cross-collateralization across the transactions and the alignment of the LTVs with Moody's EETC notching grids found in our EETC rating methodology published in 2010. The upgrade of the rating on the A330 term loan to Baa2 considers the transaction's positioning of the LTV using Moody's ETC Notching Grid from the EETC Methodology and the relevance of the five aircraft that comprise the collateral to the company's network.

Debt to EBITDA that approaches 3.0 times, Funds from Operations + Interest to Interest that approaches 6.0 times and or an EBITDA margin that is sustained near 20% could support an upgrade. Execution of the hub strategy at Seattle-Tacoma with no degradation in the trajectory of financial results that Moody's projects could also support an upgrade as could maintaining unrestricted cash and cash equivalents at about $4.0 billion. Further reduction of funded debt to about $7.5 billion or less would further de-risk the company's balance sheet, adding support to a potential ratings upgrade. A negative rating action could occur if Delta was unable to sustain its EBITDA margin, possibly because of inflation in non-fuel costs and or setting capacity too high such that yields decline in periods when passenger demand wanes. A sustained EBITDA margin of about 15% could signify a negative shift in the operating profile. Moody's estimates that the EBTIDA margin could reach this level if a gallon of jet fuel increased to about $3.00 per gallon. While not expected, a sustained decline in demand that led to declines in yields of more than 8% with no corresponding offsets to costs could pressure the ratings as could aggregate liquidity (including availability on revolving credit facilities) of less than $5.0 billion. Debt to EBITDA that approaches 4.3 times, Funds from Operations + Interest to Interest that approaches 3.5 times, Retained Cash Flow to Net Debt of below 18%, or a sustained increase in the cost of jet fuel that is not offset by higher fares and or debt-funding of share repurchases or dividends could result in a downgrade.

Changes in Delta's Corporate Family rating, in Moody's opinion of the importance of particular aircraft models to its network, or in Moody's estimates of aircraft market values, which will affect estimates of loan-to-value can result in changes to EETC ratings.

The methodologies used in these ratings were Global Passenger Airlines published in May 2012 and Enhanced Equipment Trust And Equipment Trust Certificates published December 2010. Other methodologies used include Loss Given Default for Speculative-Grade Non-Financial Companies in the U.S., Canada and EMEA published in June 2009. Please see the Credit Policy page on www.moodys.com for a copy of these methodologies.

Delta Air Lines, Inc., headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world's second largest airline, providing scheduled air transportation for passengers and cargo throughout the U.S. and around the world. The company reported $40.4 billion of revenue in 2014.

Upgrades:

..Issuer: Clayton County Development Authority, GA

....Senior Unsecured Revenue Bonds (Local Currency), Upgraded to Ba3 (LGD4) from B1 (LGD5)

..Issuer: Delta Air Lines, Inc.

.... Probability of Default Rating, Upgraded to Ba2-PD from Ba3-PD

.... Corporate Family Rating (Local Currency), Upgraded to Ba2 from Ba3

....$396 million Senior Secured Term Loan B2, Upgraded to Baa3 (LGD2) from Ba1 (LGD2)

....$1225 million Senior Secured 1st lien Revolver, Upgraded to Baa3 (LGD2) from Ba1 (LGD2)

....$450 million Senior Secured Revolver, Upgraded to Baa3 (LGD2) from Ba1 (LGD2)

....$1375 million Senior Secured 1st lien Term Loan, Upgraded to Baa3 (LGD2) from Ba1 (LGD2)

....$1090 million Senior Secured Term Loan B1, Upgraded to Baa3 (LGD2) from Ba1 (LGD2)

....$217 million Senior Secured Bank Credit Facility, Upgraded to Baa2 from Baa3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2009-1A, Upgraded to A2 from A3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2010-1A, Upgraded to A2 from A3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2011-1A, Upgraded to A2 from A3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2010-2A, Upgraded to A2 from A3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2010-2B, Upgraded to Ba1 from Ba2

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2007-1B, Upgraded to Baa3 from Ba1

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2010-1B, Upgraded to Baa3 from Ba1

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2012-1B, Upgraded to Baa3 from Ba1

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2009-1B, Upgraded to Baa2 from Baa3

..Issuer: Delta Air Lines, Inc. (Old)

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2002-1G1, Upgraded to Baa1 from Baa2

..Issuer: Northwest Airlines, Inc.

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2000-1G, Upgraded to Ba1 from Ba3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2007-1A, Upgraded to A3 from Baa1

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2007-1B, Upgraded to Baa2 from Baa3

Affirmations:

..Issuer: Delta Air Lines, Inc.

.... Speculative Grade Liquidity Rating, Affirmed SGL-1

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2007-1A, Affirmed A3

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust Series 2012-1A, Affirmed A3

..Issuer: Northwest Airlines, Inc.

....Senior Secured Enhanced Equipment Trust 2002-1G2, Affirmed Baa1

Outlook Actions:

..Issuer: Delta Air Lines, Inc.

....Outlook, Remains Positive

..Issuer: Delta Air Lines, Inc. (Old)

....Outlook, Remains Positive

..Issuer: Northwest Airlines, Inc.

....Outlook, Remains Positive

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For ratings issued on a program, series or category/class of debt, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series or category/class of debt or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

For any affected securities or rated entities receiving direct credit support from the primary entity(ies) of this rating action, and whose ratings may change as a result of this rating action, the associated regulatory disclosures will be those of the guarantor entity. Exceptions to this approach exist for the following disclosures, if applicable to jurisdiction: Ancillary Services, Disclosure to rated entity, Disclosure from rated entity.

Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.

Jonathan Root
VP - Senior Credit Officer
Corporate Finance Group
Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
U.S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

Robert Jankowitz
MD - Corporate Finance
Corporate Finance Group
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

Releasing Office:
Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
U.S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

Moody's upgrades Delta Air Lines: CFR to Ba2, outlook positive
No Related Data.
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