CU Outlook Cut to Negative by S&P

Standard & Poor’s has announced:

  • We expect Calgary, Alberta-based diversified global infrastructure holding company ATCO Ltd.’s (ATCO) financial measures to be weaker than we previously expected during our two-year outlook period, including a funds from operations (FFO) to debt ratio of about 14% in 2020, which is below our 15% downside trigger. In addition, we expect ATCO’s FFO to debt to reflect the 14%-15% range over the next two years, which implies minimal cushion amidst our view of a somewhat weaker operating and regulatory environment primarily in the Alberta region.
  • As a result, we are revising the rating outlooks on ATCO, and its intermediary holding company subsidiary, Canadian Utilities Ltd. (CUL) to negative from stable and affirming the ratings on both entities, including the ‘A-‘ issuer credit rating.
  • At the same time we are affirming the ratings for regulated operating subsidiary CU Inc. (CUI) and maintaining the stable outlook, reflecting the cumulative value of the protections in place between CUI and parent ATCO, which we view as sufficient to insulate our issuer credit rating on CUI from the group credit profile of parent ATCO.


The negative outlook on ATCO and CUL reflects financial measures that are weaker than previously expected under the current challenging economic environment. When ATCO announced its divestiture plan in 2018 we forecast a steady improvement in the company’s consolidated financial measures, with FFO to debt consistently above 15% by 2020. ATCO has been performing to our expectation for the past few years with FFO to debt improving to about 14% in 2019 from about 11% in 2017. However, the global pandemic and economic recession create uncertainty in the company’s operating environment. As a result, we do not expect the company will meet our expectation of reaching a 15% FFO to debt ratio by 2020.

Our view of ATCO’s business risk profile as excellent has not changed. The assessment largely reflects the company’s lower-risk regulated electric and natural gas utility operations, large customer base, regulatory and geographic diversity, and effective management of regulatory risk. However, the majority of ATCO’s regulated cash flow comes from Alberta, which makes ATCO mostly dependent on the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to support its credit quality. Other offsetting factors to the business risk include exposure to nonutility operations that consists of structures and logistics, energy infrastructure, transportation, and commercial real estate segments, all of which collectively represent about 10%-15% of ATCO’s consolidated cash flow, and are susceptible to cyclical economic conditions, which can affect the consistency of the company’s overall profit measures.

The ratings affirmation and stable outlook on CUI reflects our view of the company’s separateness and strength of the cumulative value of the insulation provisions in place between CUI and ATCO are sufficient to rate CUI up to one-notch higher than ATCO. Our analysis of the insulating measures takes into account the following:

  • CUI is a separate legal entity with its own capital structure, maintains its own records, does not commingle funds, assets, cash flows, or participate in a money pool with the rest of the ATCO group.
  • CUI has its own credit facility, makes its own debt arrangements, and has operations that are separate from the rest of the ATCO group.
  • We believe there is a strong economic basis for the ATCO group to preserve the credit strength of CUI given ATCO indirectly owns more than half of CUI through CUL and that CUI contributes a significant portion of ATCO’s consolidated cash flow.
  • There are no cross-default provisions between CUI and the rest of the ATCO group (or its subsidiaries) that could directly lead to a default at CUI.
  • While we assess the above insulation measures as sufficient to insulate the ratings on CUI from the group credit profile of ATCO by one notch, the issuer credit rating on CUI is limited by its stand-alone credit profile (SACP).

The negative outlook on ATCO and CUL reflects our view that ATCO’s credit measures will be weaker than we previously expected over our two-year outlook period with a FFO to debt ratio that we expect to range from 14%-15%.

Affected issues are CU.PR.C, CU.PR.D, CU.PR.E, CU.PR.F, CU.PR.G, CU.PR.H and CU.PR.I.

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