Fitch Upgrades Duke Energy Carolinas; Duke Energy Indiana's Outlook Revised to Positive

NEW YORK--()--Fitch Ratings has upgraded the Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) to 'A' from 'A-' and revised the Rating Outlook to Stable from Positive. Fitch also affirmed the IDRs of Duke Energy Corp. (DUK) and its other operating utilities as follows: Duke Energy Progress, LLC (DEP) at 'A-'; and DUK, Duke Energy Florida, LLC (DEF), Duke Energy Indiana, LLC (DEI), Duke Energy Ohio, LLC (DEO) and Duke Energy Kentucky, LLC (DEK) at 'BBB+'.

Fitch also revised the Rating Outlook of DEI to Positive from Stable. The Rating Outlooks of DUK, DEF, DEO and DEK remain Stable. A full list of the ratings is provided at the end of this release.

Rating Upgrade for Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC

The upgrade of DEC's IDR to 'A' from 'A-' reflects actual and projected leverage and interest coverage measures that are consistent with the higher ratings and compare favourably to other similarly rated utilities. The upgrade also reflects the constructive regulatory environment in North Carolina and significant, albeit manageable coal ash remediation costs. The ratings assume coal ash remediation costs will be recoverable from rate payers, similar to other environmental expenditures. The strong credit metrics provide some headroom in the event of unexpected cost increases.

Rating Outlook Revision for Duke Energy Indiana, LLC

The Positive Rating Outlook for DEI reflects credit metrics that are stronger than Fitch's target ratios for its current rating as well as the constructive regulatory environment in Indiana. Ratings could be upgraded if there are no adverse findings in the pending Indiana Regulatory Utility Commission (IURC) IGCC rider review to determine whether the Edwardsport integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plant was properly placed in service in June 2013 and there is more clarity regarding the company's proposed transmission and distribution infrastructure plan.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

Key Rating Drivers for Duke Energy Corp.

Conservative Business Model: The ratings reflect the relatively stable and diversified earnings and cash flow generated by Duke Energy Corp.'s (DUK) six regulated utilities. The regulated utilities are expected to provide approximately 85%-90% of consolidated earnings and cash flow over the next several years. Each of the utilities has a solid credit profile and is well positioned within their respective rating levels. Investments in relatively low risk contracted renewables, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulated electric and gas transmission projects and international power generation account for the remaining earnings and cash flow contributions. The last vestiges of DUK's merchant generation portfolio were disposed of in April 2015.

Constructive Regulation: Each of the six state regulatory jurisdictions in which the DUK subsidiaries operate is constructive. The three largest jurisdictions, North Carolina, Florida and Indiana in particular are considered constructive by Fitch. Base rate increases were implemented in each of DUK's two North Carolina territories, as well as in South Carolina, Florida, and Ohio in 2013 following regulatory approval of settlement agreements. Duke Energy Indiana, LLC (DEI) also increased rates in January 2013 through a rider mechanism to reflect the full recovery of approved capital costs of its Edwardsport Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant. Only Duke Energy Kentucky, Inc. (DEK), DUK's smallest subsidiary did not raise rates in 2013.

Financial Profile: Consolidated credit metrics are projected to remain largely consistent with or slightly better than historical levels, which includes slightly elevated debt/EBITDAR, not atypical for utility holding companies. Over the next three years, Fitch forecasts debt/EBITDAR will average approximately 4.4x. Funds from operations (FFO) lease adjusted leverage is projected to average 4.5x, which is consistent with the current rating and FFO fixed charge coverage 4.3x. The credit profile is bolstered by the financial flexibility afforded by DUK's size and scale and the diverse cash flow stream.

High Parent Leverage: The percentage of holding company debt (including intermediate holding company Progress Energy, Inc.) is relatively high. Holding company debt accounted for approximately 30% of adjusted debt as of March 31, 2015, consistent with management's target of less than or equal to 30%. About 30% of the holding company debt is housed at Progress Energy, which was acquired along with the debt in 2012.

Aggressive Growth Plan: Following a respite in 2014 consolidated capex is forecast to increase substantially starting in 2015 averaging $8.4 billion annually over the next five years compared to an average of $5.6 billion over the prior two years. Regulated investments account for approximately 85% of the capex plan. The plan also includes investments in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, renewable generation and $2.9 billion (approximately 7% of total capex) of discretionary growth. Approximately 38% of the growth capex is recoverable through rider mechanisms and FERC recovery (27%) or PPAs (11%).

Repatriation of Off-Shore Cash: Over the next eight years, DUK intends to access $2.7 billion of cash held and expected to be generated by its international energy business. Between $1.2 and $1.4 billion will be remitted in 2015 with the remaining amount by 2022. Proceeds will be used to support investments in domestic businesses and the dividend in lieu of debt financing. DUK recorded a $370 million tax liability, but does not expect to be a significant tax payer until 2018. DUK previously repatriated $750 million of cash in 2013 through a one-time tax free return of capital.

Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC

Strong Credit Profile: DEC's credit metrics are strong for the rating level. Over the next two years, Fitch expects adjusted debt/EBITDAR , lease adjusted debt/FFO and FFO fixed charge coverage to average approximately 3.0x, 3.2x and 6X, respectively. In each case the metrics are in excess of Fitch's target ratios for the current rating level.

Constructive Regulation: The regulatory environment in both North Carolina (DEC's primary regulatory jurisdiction) and South Carolina is constructive. North Carolina state regulation permits annual tariff adjustments to recover fuel, demand side management, energy efficiency and certain renewable costs. SC has similar rules. Authorized ROEs are generally at or above the industry average. Moreover, the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) may pre-approve the prudence and projected cost of new base load generating projects, which meaningfully reduces the risk of cost recovery, and has adopted policies that permitted the timely recovery of a significant portion of legislatively mandated emission reductions at coal-fired generating stations (i.e. allowed DEC to continue the amortization of regulatory assets that were scheduled to expire).

Coal Ash Remediation: The major issues surrounding the February 2014 spill of ash water into the Dan River at DEC's Dan River coal plant are largely resolved, but will require substantial capital investment over the next 15 years. Fitch expects the investments to be recoverable in rates similar to other environmental capex. A federal investigation into the coal ash spill has been closed. DEC paid fines and restitution of $68 million. In addition, DEC's repair and remediation costs were $24 million. Several lawsuits and an investigation by the state of North Carolina remain outstanding.

More significant was the enactment of the North Carolina Coal Ash Management Act in September 2014, which requires the closure of all NC ash basins no later than Dec. 31, 2029 (DEC and DEP own 32 ash basins at 14 sites). Four of the ash basins, designated as high risk, including two owned by DEC, must be closed by Aug. 1, 2019. DEC also plans to close a fifth site in South Carolina which is not subject to the NC legislation within the five-year window. All remaining ash basins in North Carolina must be categorized by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Resources as high, intermediate or low risk by Dec. 31, 2015. High risk plants must be closed by Dec. 31, 2019, intermediate risk by Dec. 31, 2024 and low risk by Dec. 31, 2029.

Substantial Capex Plan: Planned capex over the next five years is $11.1 billion. The lion's share of the capex is maintenance capex (40%), nuclear fuel (13%) and customer additions (10%).

Duke Energy Progress, Inc.

Credit Profile: Credit metrics are somewhat weak relative to DEP's peer group of similarly rated utilities and Fitch targets for the rating level and likely to trend moderately downward through 2017 due to rising capex and the expiration of bonus depreciation. However, Fitch anticipates credit metrics will recover once DEP is able to reflect in rate base substantial new capital investments planned over the next several years. Over the next two years, Fitch expects FFO fixed charge coverage to average approximately 4x, adjusted debt/EBITDAR 3.8X, each of which is weak for the current rating level. Projected FFO lease adjusted leverage averages 4x over the same period, which is in line with the current rating.

Constructive Regulatory Environment: Fitch considers regulation in North Carolina, DEP's primary regulatory jurisdiction, to be constructive. State regulation permits annual tariff adjustments to recover fuel, demand side management, energy efficiency and certain renewable costs. Moreover, the NCUC may pre-approve the prudence and projected cost of new base load generating projects, which meaningfully reduces the risk of cost recovery and has adopted policies that permitted the timely recovery of a significant portion of legislatively mandated emission reductions at coal-fired generating stations.

Substantial Capex Plan: Planned capex over the next five years is $11.1 billion, roughly equivalent to the expenditures of its larger affiliate DEC. The capex plan includes the $1.2 billion purchase of the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency's (NCEMPA) interest in several DEP nuclear and coal plants. The purchase agreement includes a 30-year wholesale power supply agreement with NCEMPA. The capex plan also includes new generation later in the decade and coal ash remediation.

Duke Energy Florida, Inc.

Sound Credit Profile: Credit metrics strengthened over the past two years and are strong for the current rating level. The improvement reflects in part a wind down of customer refunds related to Crystal River 3 (CR3) and accelerated recovery of a portion of CR3 costs. Moderate deterioration is expected over the next few years, but credit metrics are expected to remain well positioned within the current rating. Over the next two years, Fitch expects adjusted debt/EBITDAR, lease adjusted FFO leverage and FFO fixed charge coverage to average approximately 3.3x, 3.8x and 4.2x, respectively. Both leverage measures are strong within Fitch's target ratios for the current rating level and FFO fixed charge coverage is moderately weak.

Constructive Regulatory Environment: Fitch considers regulation in Florida to be constructive. The FPSC employs several tariff adjustment mechanisms that benefit cash flow. In addition to a fuel adjustment clause, energy conservation expenses, specified environmental compliance costs and qualified nuclear costs are recoverable outside of base rate cases. Moreover, the settlement agreement addressing the rate treatment of CR3 was considered credit supportive by Fitch.

Substantial Capex Plan: Capital expenditures are growing primarily due to the need for new capacity needed in the 2017/2018 period. Total planned capex over the next five years is $5.6 billion, including $1.6 billion for new generation, including a combined cycle natural gas plant, an uprate to the Hines Energy Complex and the acquisition of the Osprey plant (599 MW) from Calpine.

Base Rate Freeze: As part of the 2013 revised CR3 settlement agreement, DEF agreed to extend a previously agreed upon rate freeze two years through 2018, but importantly, is permitted to file a rate case if its earned ROE falls below 9.5%. DEF is also permitted to accrue, for future rate setting purposes, a carrying charge on the CR3 investment until the earlier of cost recovery of the Levy nuclear investment or 2017. Legislation enacted in Florida could allow the approximately $1.3 billion CR3 investment to be securitized as soon as 2016. Securitization would accelerate cash recovery of the CR3 investment, but reduce future earnings and cash flow since the company would no longer earn a return on its investment. Use of proceeds would determine the credit impact.

Duke Energy Indiana, Inc.

Strong Credit Metrics: Credit metrics improved over the past two years due in large measure recovery of the Edwardsport IGCC investment. An additional $55 million IGCC rider adjustment was implemented in the first quarter of 2014 (1Q14). Over the next three years, Fitch expects adjusted debt/EBITDAR, lease adjusted FFO leverage and FFO fixed charge coverage to average approximately 3.0x, 3.3x and 5.5x, respectively.

Balanced Regulatory Environment: Fitch considers regulation in Indiana to be constructive. Indiana statutes permit the timely recovery of fuel and purchased power costs, environmental expenditures, energy efficiency programs, pipeline safety and bad debts. Although construction work in progress (CWIP) is not generally included in rate base, it is allowed and the IURC has permitted a cash return on pollution control equipment and allowed CWIP for DEI's Edwardsport IGCC plant through the IGCC rider mechanism.

Substantial Capex Program: Forecasted capex is $4.3 billion over the next five years. The capex plan includes an estimated $1.9 billion seven year T&D infrastructure plan under the provisions of Senate Enrolled Act 560. If approved 80% of the costs would be recovered through a semi-annual rider mechanism and the remaining 20% deferred until the next general rate case. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) rejected DEI's initial proposal citing certain costs that were not eligible under the legislation and Fitch believes it is likely the company will refile for a lesser amount. Expenditures remain relatively moderate over the next three years and accelerate in the latter two years of the forecast. Approximately 52% of the outlays occur in the latter two tears of the forecast and peak in 2019 at $1.1 billion.

Strong Liquidity Position: Fitch expects DEI to be free cash flow positive in 2015 and only moderately free cash flow negative in the following two years.

Duke Energy Ohio, Inc. (DEO)

Strong Credit Profile: Despite some weakening in recent periods, credit quality measures are well positioned within the current rating level. Over the next three years, Fitch expects FFO fixed charge coverage, lease adjusted FFO leverage and adjusted debt/EBITDAR (normalized for the impact of asset sales) to average approximately 4.5x, 4.2x and 3.5X, respectively, each of which is in line with the current ratings.

Asset Dispositions/Recapitalization Plan: Earlier this year DEO completed the sale of its non-regulated Midwest generation business (5,900 MW) to Dynegy for $2.8 billion. Proceeds were up streamed to DUK (including repayment of an inter-company loan). In anticipation of the asset divestiture management had recapitalized DEO by retiring $400 million of DEO auction rate tax-exempt bonds in 2014 and $500 million of first mortgage bonds in 2012. The recapitalization plan maintains DEO leverage and coverage ratios that are appropriate for the revised earnings power, lower business risk and current ratings.

Electric Security Plan: A new three-year electric security plan (ESP) was approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) in April 2015 that continues the current electricity procurement and commodity cost recovery policies and certain distribution riders. The new ESP also establishes new riders to recover reliability investments and storm costs. A request for a purchase power agreement to recover OVEC costs was denied. DEO will continue to sell its share of the OVEC output into day ahead and forward markets retaining the operating and price risk. The ESP also continued a distribution decoupling rider (DDR). The DDR will remain in place until DEO files its next distribution base rate case at which time the company plans to propose a straight fixed variable rate design.

Duke Energy Kentucky, Inc. (DEK)

Strong Credit Metrics: Credit metrics are strongly positioned in the 'BBB+' rating category. Over the next three years, Fitch expects FFO fixed charge coverage, lease adjusted FFO leverage, and adjusted debt/EBITDAR to average approximately 6.5x, 3.4x and 3X, respectively, each of which is strong for the current ratings. However, higher ratings are restricted by its relatively small size.

Regulatory Environment: Fitch considers regulation in Kentucky to be constructive. Regulatory statutes permit recovery of environmental costs, which is particularly important given the company's reliance on coal-fired generation.

KEY ASSUMPTIONS

Fitch's key assumptions within the rating cases are as follows:

Duke Energy Carolinas

--Retail sales growth of 1% annually;

--$11.1 billion capex;

--No additional ash ponds categorized as high risk.

Duke Energy Progress

--Retail sales growth of approximately 1% annually;

--$11.1 billion capex;

--NCEMPA acquisition closes Jan. 1, 2016;

--No additional ash ponds categorized as high risk.

Duke Energy Florida

--Return to rate base of CR3 in 2017;

--Retail sales growth of 1.5% annually;

--$5.6 billion capex.

Duke Energy Indiana

--No adverse finding in Edwardsport IGCC review;

--Retail sales growth of about 1% annually;

--$4.3 billion capex.

Duke Energy Ohio

--Retail sales growth of 1.5% annually;

--$2.7 billion capex.

Duke Energy Kentucky

--Retail sales growth of 1% annually;

--$584 million capex.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Corp.

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

Ratings could be upgraded if the adjusted debt/EBITDAR falls below 4x on a sustainable basis.

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

Ratings could be downgraded if parent leverage exceeds 30% of consolidated debt, or adjusted debt/EBITDAR exceeds 5.0x on a sustained basis.

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC

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

Given upgrade, further positive rating action is unlikely in the near term. Positive rating action is also limited by the two notch rating differential between DEC and its corporate parent DUK.

Ratings could be upgraded if the DUK ratings were upgraded.

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

Given the current headroom in credit quality measures a downgrade is not expected, but could occur if there is a material adverse change in the constructive regulatory environment in North Carolina or a significant increase in the cost of closing DEC's coal ash ponds.

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Progress, LLC

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

Ratings could be raised if on a sustained basis adjusted debt/EBITDAR falls below 3.4x and/or FFO fixed charge coverage reaches 5x on a sustainable basis.

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

Ratings could be lowered if, on a sustained basis, FFO lease adjusted leverage exceeds 4.0x and/or FFO fixed charge coverage remains below 4.5x.

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Florida, LLC

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

Ratings could be upgraded if adjusted debt/EBITDAR and FFO lease adjusted leverage fall below 3.40x and 4.0x, respectively.

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

Ratings could be lowered if Debt/EBITDAR and FFO lease adjusted leverage increased above 3.65x and 4.5x, respectively, on a sustained basis.

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Indiana, LLC

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

DEI's currently sound credit profile could support higher ratings if there are no adverse findings in the pending IURC IGCC rider review to determine whether the Edwardsport integrated gasification combined cycle plant was properly placed in service in June 2013 and there is more clarity regarding the company's proposed transmission and distribution infrastructure plan.

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

While not likely given the headroom in existing credit metrics, ratings could be lowered if debt/EBITDAR and FFO lease adjusted leverage increased above 3.65x and 4.75x, respectively, on a sustained basis.

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Ohio, LLC

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

Ratings could be upgraded if adjusted debt/EBITDAR and FFO lease adjusted leverage fall below 3.40x and 4.8x, respectively, on a sustained basis.

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

Ratings could be lowered if Debt/EBITDAR and FFO lease adjusted leverage increased above 3.65x and 4.75x, respectively, on a sustained basis.

Rating Sensitivities for Duke Energy Kentucky, LLC

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

DEK's credit metrics are strong for the current rating, but positive rating action is not likely given the company's relatively small size and the significant impact of minor changes in cash flow and/or earnings on credit ratios.

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

-Given the current headroom in credit quality measures a downgrade is not expected, but could occur if debt/EBITDAR and FFO lease adjusted leverage increased above 3.65x and 4.75x, respectively, on a sustained basis.

LIQUIDITY AND DEBT STRUCTURE

To meet short-term cash needs DUK has substantial and relatively stable cash flows from its six regulated utilities. Nonetheless, like most of the utility sector consolidated capex exceeds internal cash flow. Accordingly, to provide for its working capital needs DUK maintains a $7.5 billion committed revolving credit facility to support its $4 billion commercial paper program, letters of credit and variable rate tax exempt bonds. The facility includes borrowing sub-limits for DUK and its subsidiaries, each of whom are party to the credit facility. DUK has the unilateral ability to at any time to increase or decrease the borrowing sub-limits for each borrower. The master credit facility matures in January 2020. The obligation of each borrower is several and not joint. The only restrictive covenant is a debt to capital ratio of 65% for each borrower and each borrower is well within the limit. As of March 31, 2015, borrowing capacity under the master credit facility was $4 billion, and cash and short-term investments $2.3 billion, including $1.3 billion of foreign cash available to be distributed to the U.S.

DUK and its subsidiaries also participate in a corporate money pool that supports short-term borrowing needs. The money pool is structured so that each subsidiary separately manages their cash needs and working capital requirements. Accordingly, there is no net settlement of receivables and payables between money pool participants. DUK may lend funds to the pool, but may not borrow from the pool. DUK's commercial paper program and excess utility cash are the primary source of funds for the money pool.

FULL LIST OF RATING ACTIONS

Fitch upgrades the following ratings with a Stable Outlook:

Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC

--Long-term IDR to 'A' from 'A-';

--First mortgage bonds to 'AA-' from 'A+';

--Senior unsecured debt to 'A+' from 'A';

--Short-term IDR to 'F1' from 'F2'.

Fitch affirms the following ratings with a Positive Outlook:

Duke Energy Indiana, Inc.

--Long-term IDR at 'BBB+';

--First mortgage bonds at 'A';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A-';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2'.

Fitch affirms the following ratings with a Stable Outlook:

Duke Energy Corp.

--Long-term IDR at 'BBB+';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'BBB+';

--Junior subordinated notes at 'BBB-';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2';

--Commercial paper at 'F2'

Duke Energy Progress, Inc.

--Long-term IDR at 'A-';

--First mortgage bonds at 'A+';

--Secured pollution control bonds at 'A+';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2'.

Duke Energy Florida, Inc.

--Long-term IDR at 'BBB+';

--First mortgage bonds at 'A';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A-';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2'.

Duke Energy Ohio, Inc.

--Long-term IDR at 'BBB+';

--First mortgage bonds at 'A';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A-';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2'.

Duke Energy Kentucky, Inc.

--Long-term IDR at 'BBB+';

--First mortgage bonds at 'A';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'A-';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2'

Progress Energy, Inc.

--Long-term IDR at 'BBB';

--Senior unsecured debt at 'BBB';

--Short-term IDR at 'F2'

Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com

Applicable Criteria

Corporate Rating Methodology - Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent and Subsidiary Linkage (pub. 28 May 2014)

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=749393

Recovery Ratings and Notching Criteria for Utilities (pub. 05 Mar 2015)

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=863298

Treatment and Notching of Hybrids in Non-Financial Corporate and REIT Credit Analysis (pub. 25 Nov 2014)

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=821568

Additional Disclosures

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Solicitation Status

https://www.fitchratings.com/gws/en/disclosure/solicitation?pr_id=986509

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Robert Hornick
Senior Director
+1-212-908-0523
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Philip Smyth, CFA
Senior Director
+1-212-908-0331
or
Committee Chairperson
Shalini Mahajan
Managing Director
+1-212-908-0351
or
Media Relations:
Alyssa Castelli, +1 212-908-0540
alyssa.castelli@fitchratings.com

Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Robert Hornick
Senior Director
+1-212-908-0523
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Philip Smyth, CFA
Senior Director
+1-212-908-0331
or
Committee Chairperson
Shalini Mahajan
Managing Director
+1-212-908-0351
or
Media Relations:
Alyssa Castelli, +1 212-908-0540
alyssa.castelli@fitchratings.com