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Rating Action:

Moody's upgrades NU and five subsidiaries, outlooks stable

31 Jan 2014

Approximately $9 Billion of Debt Securities affected

New York, January 31, 2014 -- Moody's Investors Service upgraded the long-term ratings of Northeast Utilities (Senior unsecured and Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2); Public Service Company of New Hampshire (Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2 and senior secured to A2 from A3); Yankee Gas Services (Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2 and senior secured to A2 from A3); Connecticut Light and Power Company (Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2; senior secured to A2 from A3 and preferred stock to Baa3 from Ba1) and Western Massachusetts Electric Company (Senior unsecured and Issuer Rating to A3 from Baa2).

Concurrently, Moody's confirmed the rating of NStar Electric Company. (Issuer Rating and senior unsecured at A2 and preferred stock at Baa1).

This rating action concludes our review of these companies' ratings initiated on November 8, 2013. The rating outlooks of Northeast Utilities and all of its subsidiaries are stable.

RATINGS RATIONALE

The primary driver of today's rating action is Moody's more favorable view of the relative credit supportiveness of the US regulatory framework, as detailed in our September 23, 2013 Request for Comment: "Proposed Refinements to the Regulated Utilities Rating Methodology and our Evolving View of US Utility Regulation." Factors supporting this view include better cost recovery provisions, reduced regulatory lag, and generally fair and open relationships between utilities and regulators. The US utility sector's low number of defaults, high recovery rates, and generally strong financial metrics from a global perspective provide additional corroboration for these upgrades.

The two notch upgrade of the ratings of WMECO is underpinned by the shift in its business mix. WMECO's transmission rate base has doubled to around $600 million from $270 million in 2010 following the completion of the 40-mile Greater Springfield Reliability Project (GSRP) that interconnects Massachusetts with Connecticut. As a result, around 60% of the utility's rate base is currently under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which is generally viewed as having greater consistency and predictability. WMECO's rating is currently tempered by its financial metrics.

The upgrade of the ratings of YGS is largely driven by Moody's view that there is some evidence of improvements in the credit supportiveness of the regulatory framework in Connecticut, particularly for natural gas local distribution companies. This opinion is largely predicated on the final order issued by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) at the end of November 2013 approving the State's joint infrastructure expansion plan pursuant to the Connecticut Comprehensive Energy Strategy, and enabling legislation (House Bill 63602) enacted in 2013.

The upgrade of the rating of CL&P is predicated on the assumption of a more constructive relationship with PURA and that the prospects for an improving regulatory environment in Connecticut will result in an outcome for its next rate case that is supportive from a credit perspective. Under the 2012 merger settlement CL&P agreed to file for new distribution rates by mid-year 2014, with new rates becoming effective December 1, 2014. Importantly, with the expiration of the current distribution base rate freeze at the end of this year, CL&P will be able to start recouping its significant deferred storm restoration costs that aggregated $490.7 million at the end of September 2013. The recovery of said costs will extend over a six year period which compares poorly with other jurisdictions. This recovery is subject to PURA's review and approval but today's rating action assumes that CL&P will be able to recover the vast majority of these costs. CL&P's ratings also incorporate the utility's exposure to the FERC regulatory purview given that its transmission operations account for about 45% of its total rate base, a credit positive.

The upgrade of PSNH reflects credit metrics that are well positioned within the Baa-rating category and Moody's view that the regulatory environment in New Hampshire is about average for US utilities in terms of credit supportiveness and the ability to recover costs on a timely basis and earn adequate returns. The rating action also assumes that PSNH will be able to recover all costs and investments associated with its generation investments with a rate base of around $750 million should the New Hampshire Commission decide that the utility needs to disinvest those assets.

The confirmation of NSTAR Electric reflects Moody's opinion that its current ratings already capture our view that the regulatory environment for its distribution operations in Massachusetts is slightly above average along with the benefits associated with the exposure of its transmission operations to FERC's regulatory purview. The rating further acknowledges that NSTAR Electric's credit metrics are commensurate with the mid range of the A-rating category and that it compares well relative to other A2-rated transmission and distribution peers operating in a single metro area. It also captures that NSTAR Electric has a standalone $450 million committed credit facility and that the utility's historical ability to report significant amounts of positive free cash flow has diminished in recent years.

The rating action at NU largely reflects the upgrade of the majority of its publicly rated subsidiaries. NU's rating is mainly driven by the structural subordination given that the subsidiaries' dividends are NU's main source of cash flow, that its outstanding holding company indebtedness accounts for less than 20% of the consolidated debt and the group's limited exposure to unregulated business. It further captures the diversification benefits from owning six regulated utilities and considers that the utilities' rate base of around 60% are rated Baa1 senior unsecured while the balance is rated A.

NU's ratings also take into consideration the group's significant reliance on its short-term debt arrangements. This results in a somewhat weaker liquidity profile compared to its peers given the limited available amounts under its committed revolving credit facility which at the end of September approximated US$263 million. In September 2013, NU increased the size of its committed credit facility from $1.15 billion to $1.45 billion. This was executed jointly with the bulk of its subsidiaries.

Rating Outlook

The stable outlook of NU and its subsidiaries largely reflects our expectation that they will continue to benefit from their overall credit supportive regulatory environments, and report credit metrics that are commensurate with their respective current rating categories according to the financial ratio guidelines outlined in Moody's Regulated Electric and Gas Utility ratings methodology published in December 2013.

What Could Change the Rating -- UP

Positive momentum of NU's subsidiaries is likely if Moody's perceives a significant improvement in the regulatory framework in terms of credit supportiveness under which each of the utilities operate and if the utilities are able to report a material improvement in their credit metrics after excluding the cash savings associated with bonus depreciation, on a sustained basis. Specifically, the ratings of PSNH, CL&P and YGS could be upgraded if they report 3-year average CFO pre-W/C to debt well in excess of 20%, respectively, on a sustainable basis. NSTAR Electric's ratings could be considered for upgrade if it reports CFO Pre-W/C to debt in the very high twenties, while WMECO would have to record CFO pre-W/C to debt metrics above the mid twenties. Additional upward pressure on NU's ratings is possible if the ratings of its largest subsidiaries were to be upgraded, and/or upon a substantial improvement in its consolidated credit metrics.

What Could Change the Rating - Down

The rating of NU and its subsidiaries could come under pressure if in Moody's opinion the utilities' regulatory environments deteriorate significantly from a credit supportiveness perspective, upon a substantial deterioration in the group's liquidity profile and/or credit metrics, on a sustained basis. Specifically, if NU (consolidated) CL&P, PSNH or YGS report CFO pre-W/C to debt below 13%, or if NSTAR Electric's and WMECO's CFO pre-W/C to debt fall below 22%, respectively.

Northeast Utilities

Ratings upgraded:

LT Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2

Senior Unsecured (Domestic) to Baa1 from Baa2

BACKED Senior Unsecured (Domestic) to Baa1 from Baa2

Senior Unsec. Shelf (Domestic) to (P)Baa1 from (P)Baa2

Pref. Shelf (Domestic) to (P)Baa3 from (P)Ba1

Ratings affirmed

Commercial Paper -- P-2

Outlook Stable

NSTAR Electric Company

Ratings confirmed:

LT Issuer Rating at A2

Senior Unsecured (Domestic) at A2

Pref. Stock (Domestic) at Baa1

Senior Unsec. Shelf (Domestic) at (P)A2

Pref. Shelf (Domestic) at (P)Baa1

Ratings affirmed

Commercial Paper -- P-1

Outlook Stable

Connecticut Light and Power Company

Ratings upgraded:

LT Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2

Pref. Stock (Domestic) to Baa3 from Ba1

First Mortgage Bonds (Domestic) to A2 from A3

Backed First Mortgage Bonds (Domestic) to A2 from A3

Underlying First Mortgage Bonds (Domestic) to (P)A2 from (P)A3

Senior Secured Shelf (Domestic) to (P)A2 from (P)A3

Outlook Stable

Public Service Company of New Hampshire

Ratings upgraded:

LT Issuer Rating to Baa1 from Baa2

First Mortgage Bonds (Domestic) to A2 from A3

Senior Secured Shelf (Domestic) to (P)A2 from (P)A3

Outlook Stable

Western Massachusetts Electric Company

Ratings upgraded:

LT Issuer Rating to A3 from Baa2

Senior Unsecured (Domestic) to A3 from Baa2

Senior Unsec. Shelf (Domestic) to (P)A3 from (P)Baa2

Outlook Stable

Yankee Gas Services Company

Ratings upgraded:

LT Issuer Rating (Domestic) to Baa1 from Baa2

First Mortgage Bonds (Domestic) to A2 from A3

Outlook Stable

The principal methodology used in this rating was Regulated Electric and Gas Utilities published in December 2013. Please see the Credit Policy page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

Headquartered in Hartford and Boston, Northeast Utilities is a utility holding company of mostly a regulated group of companies. With a combined rate base of around $13 billion it makes up the largest utility system in the New England region with around 3 million electric and 500,000 natural gas customers through six regulated utilities. The group includes the vertically integrated utility Public Service Company of New Hampshire (PSNH); the electric transmission and distribution utilities Connecticut Light and Power (CL&P), NSTAR Electric Company (NSTAR Electric), Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO), and Northern Pass Transmission LLC (via NU Transmission Ventures; not rated); as well as the local gas distribution (LDC) utilities Yankee Gas Services Company (YGS; Baa2; stable) and NSTAR Gas (not rated).

The utilities are regulated at the state level by their respective public utility commissions in Connecticut (PURA), Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and are also subject to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) purview which oversees the group's transmission businesses and PSNH's hydro-electric license conditions. The group's unregulated businesses consist mainly of the former NSTAR LLC's small non-regulated subsidiaries that include a telecommunication company (NSTAR Com, not rated) and liquefied natural gas service operations (Hopkinton), and NU's Enterprises' energy services business as well as Select Energy along with the service support providers NUSCO, RRR and Renewable Properties, Inc. and Properties, Inc.

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.

Natividad Martel
Vice President - Senior Analyst
Infrastructure 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

William L. Hess
MD - Utilities
Infrastructure 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 NU and five subsidiaries, outlooks stable
No Related Data.
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