SLF: S&P Affirms Rating, Removes Watch, Sets Outlook Negative

Standard & Poor’s has announced:

  • In December 2011, Sun Life announced it would cease issuing individual life and annuity contracts in the U.S.We believe Sun Life’s U.S. business segment, including the run-off operations, will likely generate more than C$300 million annually in pretax operating earnings that supports earnings diversity.
  • Accordingly, we are removing our ‘A’ ratings on Sun Life Financial Inc. from CreditWatch and affirming them, and affirming our ‘AA-‘ ratings on its core North American subsidiaries.
  • The negative outlook on holding company Sun Life Financial Inc. reflects that fixed charge coverage may not rebound to the levels we expect in 2012.

“The rating action reflects our opinion that the group’s (Sun Life) 2012 after-tax operating earnings will come in between $C1.4 billion and C$1.5 million expected for the ratings following depressed results in 2011,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Robert Hafner.

Furthermore, we expect that the U.S. business segment, including the operations the group placed in run-off in December as a result of the cessation of U.S. individual life and annuity contract sales, is likely to contribute more than C$300 million annually to consolidated earnings. This will adequately support earnings quality and diversification at SLF that helps satisfy our expectations for maintaining the two-notch difference between our ratings on SLF and SLA. Normally, there is a three-notch difference between the ratings on North American insurance holding companies and the ratings on subsidiaries. Although the earnings from the U.S. run-off operations will gradually decline, we expect the results to provide ample opportunity for the organization to generate replacement earnings from other businesses.

In addition, Sun Life’s mutual fund platform (MFS) generated C$271 million of after-tax operating earnings in 2011. Although we view mutual fund earnings to be of lower quality than insurance earnings, MFS does contribute to earnings diversification and is an unregulated source of earnings.

The negative outlook on SLF is because we could widen the notching between the company and its core operating insurance companies to three notches from two by lowering the ratings on SLF if fixed charge coverage does not rebound to expected levels in 2012. We could lower the ratings if we believe that it will not maintain earnings diversification as the U.S. individual life and annuity business runs off by replacing U.S. earnings with other sources. We could revise the outlook to stable and affirm the ratings if SLF restores fixed charge coverage to more than 5x.

The Negative Watch was reported on PrefBlog on December 14. In the interim, Moody’s downgraded SLF. S&P rates the preferreds P-2(high); DBRS viewed the 11Q4 results as non-material and maintains the preferreds at Pfd-1(low).

SLF has the following preferred shares outstanding: SLF.PR.A, SLF.PR.B, SLF.PR.C, SLF.PR.D and SLF.PR.E (DeemedRetractible) and SLF.PR.F, SLF.PR.G, SLF.PR.H and SLF.PR.I (FixedReset). All are tracked by HIMIPref™ and assigned to their respective indices.

2 Responses to “SLF: S&P Affirms Rating, Removes Watch, Sets Outlook Negative”

  1. […] for the preferreds. S&P has them at P-2(high) [Outlook Negative]; the Outlook Negative was assessed in February, 2012. Moody’s downgraded the preferreds to Baa3(hyb) in January, 2012 and they remain at that […]

  2. […] follows the S&P announcement in February, 2012, that: » The negative outlook on holding company Sun Life Financial Inc. reflects that fixed charge […]

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