x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Taqa ties up $3bn credit after thaw with S&P

Abu Dhabi National Energy Company has secured a US$3 billion creduit line from a syndicate of international banks amid returning appetite for local debt sales from foreign lenders.

Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa) has secured a US$3 billion (Dh11.01bn) credit line from a syndicate of international banks amid returning appetite for local debt sales from foreign lenders.

It comes as more government-backed companies from around the region tap cheaper funds available from international capital markets.

"The markets are liquid now, so it's easy to finance at this moment," said Mohammed Mubaideen, Taqa's investor relations manager.

The deal also reflects thawing relations with international ratings agencies and occurs a week after Standard and Poor's (S&P) released its first credit rating of Taqa since July last year.

The new credit facility, finalised on Monday, will replace an existing $3.15bn credit facility, which is to expire in August.

Taqa plans to save on fees in the meanwhile by cancelling the old credit facility, on which it had drawn $1bn mainly to finance its 2008 acquisition of Canada's PrimeWest Energy Trust.

Taqa follows other regional government-owned businesses - including the Saudi Electricity Company and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority - that have secured new funds or renewed existing facilities this year as credit markets open up.

The telecommunications operator Etisalat is also seeking to raise as much as $12bn to fund its purchase of a stake in Kuwait's Zain phone company.

"Local companies in the Middle East are going back to the capital markets," said Khalid Howladar, an analyst at Moody's. "There's international appetite for Abu Dhabi credit."

Twenty international banks, including BNP Paribas, Citi, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered, were involved in the Taqa deal.

Taqa will use the credit in line with a general shift in strategy, from expansion into new markets to consolidating existing positions in the MENA region and South Asia.

"If we're acquiring, we're acquiring assets that complement our existing assets," Mr Mubaideen said. "The new strategy focuses more on organic growth."

Taqa plans by 2014 to have finished increasing the capacity of a power plant in Morocco by more than 50 per cent with two new units, each adding 350 megawatts (mw) to the current output of 1,350mw.

It also signed an agreement with the Guinean government to supplement its single-cycle turbines with more efficient combined-cycle ones, increasing capacity by 110mw.

The revolving credit facility can also come into play if the bond market is tight when a set of Taqa bonds matures in 2012, Mr Mubaideen said.

The company wants to appeal to international investors, part of the reason it renewed its relationship with S&P in the third quarter of this year after a publicised break in July last year.

"It's a strategic decision by the management to re-establish the relationship with S&P," Mr Mubaideen said. "It's also assuring for the investors."

Taqa's "A" rating, technically a downgrade from last year's "minus AA", is the result of a new methodology S&P introduced for government-related businesses after Dubai's debt crisis. It factors in the nature of the relationship between the company and the state, rather than the individual creditworthiness of the company and government.

S&P rates the company's stand-alone credit profile a "B plus", calling its financial risk "highly leveraged". As of March, the company's debt totalled Dh63bn. The Abu Dhabi Government owns 72 per cent of Taqa; the rest is traded on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

"There's a huge gap between the stand-alone and what we see as the rating with the government support," said Karim Nassif, a credit analyst in Dubai for S&P.

The new credit facility has "no relation" to last week's S&P rating, Mr Mubaideen said, adding that the company was not concerned about the lower credit score.

"It's very difficult to compare the rating this year and the one last year," he said. "It's an 'A' rating, and it's an investment-grade rating, and we're happy."