CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Fitch Ratings has affirmed Axtel S.A.B. de C.V's (Axtel) Long-term Local and Foreign Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) at 'B' and affirmed the Long-term National Scale Rating at 'BB-(mex)'. The Rating Outlook is Stable.
Fitch has also affirmed the following ratings:
--Senior secured notes due 2020 at 'B+/RR3';
--Senior secured convertible notes due 2020 at 'B+/RR3'.
--Senior unsecured notes due 2019 at 'B-/RR5';
--Senior unsecured notes due 2017 at 'B-/RR5'.
The ratings reflect Axtel's improved liquidity by the successful recapitalization during 2013 through debt exchange and tower sales which resulted in lower leverage and extended debt maturities. The company's total net debt decreased to MXN6.6 billion at the end of 2013 from MXN10.9 billion a year ago.
Axtel's ratings are tempered by the company's weak cash generation due to high investment to strengthen its enterprise business and to cope with the intense competitive environment. Fitch does not foresee any material improvement in free cash flow generation and the leverage ratio over the medium term.
The stability of the ratings will hinge on Axtel's ability to sustain EBITDA growth from the data and internet revenue growth, mainly from the enterprise sector, and fully mitigate pressures on the traditional fixed-voice service. The company improved its EBITDA in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 (Q114) and the continued growth should help support its working capital requirement and capex without any significant need for external financing. Fitch also views the passage of a new telecommunications law in Mexico to have some positive effects to Axtel's operation in the medium term.
Improved Liquidity Position:
Following Axtel's successful recapitalization in 2013, Fitch does not foresee any serious liquidity problem in the short to medium term as the company does not face any sizable debt maturity until 2017. Fitch believes that the company's cash balance of MXN828 million as of March 31, 2014 as well as its committed credit facility worth of USD35 million (equivalent to approximately MXN450 million) should provide comfortable support in its liquidity management.
As of March 31, 2014 the company's total debt was MXN7.95 billion, mainly comprised of MXN659 million and MXN1.3 billion of 2017 and 2019 unsecured notes, respectively, and MXN5.2 billion and MXN270 million of 2020 Secured notes, including convertible notes. Other debt included loans and financial leases.
EBITDA Turnaround; Positive Revenue Mix Change
Axtel resumed its EBITDA growth in 2013 and Q114 from a year ago and Fitch believes this trend to continue over the medium term driven by strong performance in the enterprise/public sector businesses. In addition, the company's focus on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) with the recent launch of IPTV should enable steady subscriber and revenue growth in the broadband segment, while protecting existing residential customers. These segments should fully offset the ongoing revenue contraction in the traditional fixed-voice service, which has been tempered by competition and price pressure.
Axtel's ongoing revenue mix change is positive with an increasing proportion from the enterprise segment, which has a stable demand outlook. The mass-market segment, where the competitive pressure remains high, now only represents about 30% of the total revenues. This will allow more stable cash generation from operations going forward. In 2013 and Q114, Axtel generated EBITDA of MXN2.8 billion and MXN728 million, respectively, which were 10% and 8% growth from a year ago, respectively. EBITDA margins are likely to trend down below 25%, however, as the proportion of higher gross margin businesses, mainly traditional fixed-voice services, will continue to fall.
Weak Cash Generation to Continue:
Fitch forecasts continued negative free cash flow generation over the medium term due to high capex. As the enterprise business represents Axtel's key growth area, the investments for infrastructure and equipment to support the business will remain high in 2014 and 2015, in line with the 2013 level of MXN2.1 billion accounting for about 20% of total revenues. In addition, working capital requirement will continue to increase with a higher volume of business with the public entities, placing some pressure on CFO. However, Fitch does not expect Axtel to need any significant external financing as the negative FCF amount will not be material and its CFO, cash on hand, and credit facility should be able to cover it.
Relatively Stable Leverage:
Fitch believes Axtel's financial leverage will remain stable over the medium term with the adjusted leverage ratio around 4.0x. The net debt level is likely to increase modestly due to negative FCF but it should be compensated by EBITDA improvement. As of Dec. 31, 2013, total adjusted debt to EBITDAR improved to 3.9x from 5.0x at end-2012. Excluding the off-balance sheet adjustment for rental expenses, the company's total debt to EBITDA improved to 2.9x from 4.5x, while its total net debt to EBITDA improved to 2.4x from 4.3x during the same period, reflecting significant gross debt reduction from the recapitalization.
The secured notes rated at 'B+/RR3' reflect good recovery prospects given default. These notes are secured by first priority liens on all capital stock of subsidiary guarantors and substantially all assets. Securities rated 'RR3' are considered good recovery prospects given default and have characteristics consistent with securities historically recovering 51% - 70% of current principal and related interest. Conversely, the remaining unsecured notes rated 'B-/RR5' are structurally subordinated to senior debt. 'RR5' rated securities have characteristics consistent with securities historically recovering 11% - 30% of current principal and related interest.
A negative rating action could be considered in case of deterioration in liquidity, or weak performance due to competitive pressure leading to persistent negative FCF generation and higher leverage.
A positive rating action is unlikely in the short term given the recent distressed debt exchange. However, positive factors to credit quality include improvement in the operating performance, margins, cash generation, and competitive position.
Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'
Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
--'Corporate Rating Methodology', May 28, 2014;
--'Recovery Ratings and Notching Criteria for Nonfinancial Corporate Issuers', Nov. 20, 2013.
Applicable Criteria and Related Research:
Corporate Rating Methodology - Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent and Subsidiary Linkage
Recovery Ratings and Notching Criteria for Non-Financial Corporate Issuers