Fitch Affirms GRUPO SURA's IDR at 'BBB-'; Rates Local Unsecured Bonds 'AAA(Col)'; Outlook Stable

NEW YORK--()--Fitch Ratings has affirmed the Issuer Default Rating (IDR) and outstanding debt ratings of Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana S.A. (GRUPO SURA) and its special-purpose vehicle Gruposura Finance as follows:

GRUPO SURA

--Foreign currency IDR at 'BBB-';

--Local currency IDR at 'BBB-';

--COP250,000 million local unsecured bonds due 2019-2049 at 'AAA(Col)'.

Gruposura Finance

--USD300 million senior unsecured bonds due 2021 at 'BBB-'.

Fitch has simultaneously withdrawn Gruposura Finance's foreign and local currency long-term IDRs. The IDRs of Gruposura Finance are being withdrawn because the entity is a special vehicle purpose (SPV) and the credit quality of the bonds issued by it reflects the guarantees provided by Grupo SURA.

In addition, Fitch has also assigned 'AAA(col)' and 'F1+(col)' ratings to the local bond and commercial paper program, respectively, for a total combined amount of COP1.3 billion.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

GRUPO SURA's ratings reflect the company's average credit quality of its dividend income streams, diversification in the sources of dividends, and track record of stability of dividends. The ratings also reflect Grupo SURA's level of cash interest coverage and liquidity. Further factored in the company's ratings are its historical low leverage ratios, a growth strategy that includes acquisitions activity, as well as GRUPO SURA's track record of funding its inorganic growth with adequate combinations of equity and debt. The credit ratings of GRUPO SURA also incorporate the structural subordination of the holding company's debt to the debt at its operating companies.

The Stable Outlook reflects the view that GRUPO SURA will maintain adequate liquidity levels and a moderately leveraged capital structure stable in the next few years.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Stable Dividend Flow Driven by Financial Services Segment

The rating considers the diversification and quality of Grupo Sura's dividends flow. During 2013, in line with Fitch expectations, the company received USD284.5 million dividends, representing an increase of 24% over received dividends in prior year. Between years 2008 to 2013, the total annual amount of received dividend increased to a compound annual growth rate (CARG) of 20%. The financial segment continues to be the main source of cash dividends in 2013 and represented 67% of the company's total received dividends. Grupo SURA's received dividends from Bancolombia, Sura Asset Management (SUAM) - including Proteccion, and Suramericana represented 31%, 21%, and 15%, respectively over its 2013 total received dividends.

In the industrial segment, received dividends from Grupo Nutresa and Grupo Argos represented 11% and 10% over the period. The financial services segment is expected to continue representing the bulk of the dividend flow during the next years, representing around 75% of Grupo SURA's total annual received dividends. For 2014, Grupo Sura expects to receive dividends of approximately USD288 million.

Strong Credit Profile of Main Investments

Grupo Sura's ratings are supported by the strong credit profile of its main dividend generators. Bancolombia (rated 'BBB'; Outlook stable by Fitch) has operations in seven countries in Latin America and is the leader bank in Colombia and El Salvador with a market share of 23% and 30% of loans respectively. SUAM's sound business profile, stable cash flow generation, and solid business position as the largest pension fund manager in Latin America with presence in six countries are positively incorporated. Operations in Chile, Mexico, and Peru represent 40%, 34% and 21% of SUAM's 2013 EBITDA of USD482 million. Suramericana's solid financial strength of insurance operations also supports Grupo SURA's income stream quality.

Confortable Debt Service Coverage

Grupo Sura's dividend stream has shown low volatility in recent years accompanied by a sound financial policy which allows the company to adequately cover its debt service and dividends payments. Most of Grupo Sura's major dividends generators are companies with manageable dividends pay-out ratios that Fitch considers are likely to remain stable in the following years. For 2013, GRUPO SURA's net operational inflow was USD380 million - including USD285 million in received dividends and USD93 million from assets sold - to cover USD103 million in debt services (interest and principal payments) and paid dividends of USD134 million. The ratings factor the expectation that Grupo Sura's dividend inflow will adequately cover its debt service with coverage rations between 1x to 3x during the next few years, limiting the need to rely on assets sale.

Manageable Increase in Financial Leverage

The company ended 2013 with a cash position and total adjusted debt of USD122 million and USD582 million, respectively. Grupo Sura's 2013 received dividends totaled USD285 million. The company's net financial leverage, measured by the ratio of total net debt to dividends received was 1.8x as of Dec. 31, 2013. Leverage was 2.3x as of Dec. 31, 2012.

GRUPO SURA's net financial leverage is expected to reach a moderate increase during 2014 considering the incremental debt the company is taking to fund its participation in Bancolombia's equity increase -- already executed during the first quarter of 2014. Grupo Sura's net debt and net financial leverage are expected at levels around USD730 million and 3x by the end of 2014. The ratings also incorporate in a gradual business deleverage taking place during the following years. Grupo SURA's average net financial leverage during the 2014 -2016 period is forecasted around 2.5x.

Adequate Liquidity

The company has managed historically low levels of cash relative to its short-term debt. This situation is compensated by Grupo Sura's ability to access alternative sources of liquidity. As of December 2013, Grupo Sura's combined cash in hand was approximately USD120 million with a short-term debt of USD163 million. The company is planning to refinance its short term debt during the second half of 2014. Excluding short-term debt the next sizable debt payment amortization the company faces could be around 2017 for approximately USD156 million, according to the final conditions of debt issuance. Fitch views the company's refinancing risk as low with a manageable debt payment schedule.

Positively incorporated is the company proven access to international and local bond and equity markets, uncommitted credit lines of approximately USD1.2 billion and a good level of non-strategic assets, which comprise minority stakes of Grupo Sura's investment portfolio, with an estimated value of USD1.8 billion versus proforma gross debt - post issuance - of USD800 million. In Fitch's view, under a stress scenario, Grupo Sura is likely to generate liquidity by accessing the credit markets, executing joint ventures with strategic partners, and disposing of non-strategic assets.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

The Stable Outlook for Grupo SURA's ratings incorporate the view that the company's net financial leverage will remain around 3x and 2.5x during 2014 and 2014 - 2016 period, respectively.

Positive Rating Actions: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to a positive rating action include:

--The positive development, above expectations already incorporated, of the regional macroeconomic environment in which the company operates;

--An upgrade of Bancolombia's IDRs; and,

--Fitch's positive review of SUAM's credit quality due to financial performance and balance sheet strength reaching levels above expectations.

Negative Rating Actions: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to a negative rating action include:

--Adverse macroeconomic trends leading to weaker credit metrics;

--A downgrade of Bancolombia's IDRs;

--Deterioration in SUAM's credit profile.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

--'Corporate Rating Methodology' (Aug. 5, 2013).

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

Corporate Rating Methodology -- Effective 12 August 2011 to 8 August 2012

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=647229

Additional Disclosure

Solicitation Status

http://www.fitchratings.com/gws/en/disclosure/solicitation?pr_id=825123

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Jose Vertiz
Director
+1-212-908-0641
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
One State Street Plaza
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Natalia O'Byrne
Director
+571-326-9999
or
Committee Chairperson
Daniel R. Kastholm, CFA
Managing Director
+1-312-368-2070
or
Media Relations:
Elizabeth Fogerty, New York, +1 212-908-0526
Email: elizabeth.fogerty@fitchratings.com

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Jose Vertiz
Director
+1-212-908-0641
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
One State Street Plaza
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Natalia O'Byrne
Director
+571-326-9999
or
Committee Chairperson
Daniel R. Kastholm, CFA
Managing Director
+1-312-368-2070
or
Media Relations:
Elizabeth Fogerty, New York, +1 212-908-0526
Email: elizabeth.fogerty@fitchratings.com