CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Fitch Ratings has assigned a 'AAA' rating to the approximately $300 million Board of Regents of The University of Texas System (UTS) revenue financing system (RFS) bonds, series 2016J (the bonds).
The bonds are expected to sell via negotiation the week of Nov. 28. Bond proceeds will finance the university's remaining authorized $352 million tuition revenue bond projects and pay issuance expenses.
The Rating Outlook is Stable.
RFS debt is secured by a lien on and pledge of all legally available revenues and fund balances of the UTS system. Specifically excluded from the pledge are state appropriations, the Available University Fund (related to Permanent University Fund [PUF] income), and the income or corpus of the Permanent Health Fund.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
STABLE CREDIT CHARACTERISTICS: The 'AAA' RFS rating is supported by the system's substantial resource base, positive operating history and coverage, revenue diversity, stable enrollment and program demand, and an experienced management team.
MANAGEABLE CAPITAL PLANS: UTS maintains adequate capacity to issue additional debt associated with its substantial capital improvement plan. The plan entails approximately $2.5 billion of PUF and RFS debt, much of which has already been issued, over the next six years. Post issuance, the system's fiscal 2015 debt burden remains moderate at 4.6% of operating revenue. Fiscal 2015 operations provided ample coverage of pro forma maximum annual debt service (MADS) at about 2.6x. Financial statements for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2016 are not yet available.
EXCEPTIONAL RESOURCE BASE: UTS benefits from substantial endowments, including a two-thirds share in the PUF. These endowments are not generally pledged to RFS bonds and are not included in balance sheet ratios. However, they provide significant university financial flexibility and balance sheet strength. Market value of all UTS endowments at Aug. 31, 2016, including the PUF at $17.9 billion, was $26.6 billion.
MATERIAL CHANGE IN PERFORMANCE: Deterioration of The University of Texas System's operating performance, debt service coverage, or performance of its substantial healthcare operations, combined with a significantly weakened balance sheet, could pressure the RFS rating. Fitch views such changes as unlikely at this time.
UTS was established under the 1876 Texas Constitution. Its current eight academic institutions and six health care institutions are geographically dispersed throughout the state. The system enjoys strong and stable enrollment. System headcount is 228,539 in fall 2016 (preliminary) - about 3% more than the prior year. Most UTS growth occurs outside of the flagship Austin campus, which has been at capacity for many years.
UTS' growing medical schools and healthcare operations represented 31% of fiscal 2015 operating revenues. Additionally, UTS benefits from a two-thirds share of the state-constitution established PUF, as well as other endowments. The market value is significant compared to most public universities; market value of all UTS endowments was $26.1 billion as of Aug. 31, 2015. At Aug. 31, 2016, the audited value was $26.6 billion.
SOLID OPERATING PERFORMANCE
The system consistently produces positive operating results, a solid balance sheet and stable enrollment, factors that Fitch considers consistent with its 'AAA' rating. UTS' fiscal 2015 operating surplus, as adjusted by Fitch, was a positive $596 million, an operating margin of 3.5%. Excluding $625 million of non-cash other post-employment benefit (OPEB) accruals, the margin would increase to about 7.2%. UTS management reports that the system expects to continue pay-as-you-go OPEB payments. Financial statements for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2016 are not yet available.
The system benefits from broad revenue diversity. Fiscal 2015 operating revenues included healthcare (31.2%); grants and contracts (19.2%); net student revenues (12.5%); state appropriations (12.3%); and investment income (7.8%, as adjusted by Fitch). State operating appropriations increased in the 2014/2015 biennium, and increased another 11% for the current 2016/2017 biennium. State appropriations may be reduced in the next biennium, as the state has directed its agencies to reduce their budget requests by 4% for the 2018/2019 biennium. Tuition increases have been modest system-wide for several years, including fall 2015, with a continued focus on student affordability. For fall 2016, the board approved modest increases that varied by system campus; UT-Austin's tuition increased by about 3%.
UTS' research presence remained strong in fiscal 2015 with $2.08 billion of related expenses, similar to fiscal 2013 even with federal sequestration constraining growth in research awards. Additionally, the system's sizable healthcare operations, as a whole, generate positive cash flow.
LOW DEBT BURDEN; SOLID COVERAGE
Post issuance MADS on UTS' combined RFS, PUF and various lease obligations is about $731 million (due in 2018), equal to a moderate 4.6% of fiscal 2015 operating revenues. The system's sizeable operating base contributes to a relatively low debt burden. Post issuance, about 35% of RFS debt service is eligible for TRB debt service reimbursement from the state.
Texas recently approved state capital funding in the form of TRB project authorizations, including a substantial $922 million for UTS. These series 2016J bonds will fund the unissued balance of $352 million. TRBs are issued as parity RFS debt, with related debt service reimbursed (but not pledged) by the state. At this time, system management does not expect to issue additional RFS or PUF long-term debt in fiscal 2017.
Management expects to continue issuing certain RFS debt to support its extensive capital improvement plan in the form of commercial paper (CP) and then permanently finance it as long-term debt. The UTS board reduced its RFS CP authorization to $1.25 billion from $1.75 billion in August 2016. The plan calls for $5.9 billion of capital projects between 2017 and 2022, of which 59% has or will be debt funded; of that amount, almost half will be supported by state TRB payments or separately secured PUF bonds. UTS' self-supporting healthcare operations also support a large component of RFS debt service.
UTS produces solid annual operating cash flow, resulting in strong institutional debt service coverage. Net income available from operations in fiscal 2015 was 2.6x on pro forma MADS of $776 million. When adjusted for non-cash OPEB accruals, MADS coverage would increase to about 3.4x.
BALANCE SHEET STRENGTH
Available funds (AF), defined by Fitch as cash and investments less certain restricted net assets, were $13.3 billion at Aug. 31, 2015. AF equaled 82% of operating expenses ($16.2 billion) and a stronger 123% of pro forma debt (about $10.8 billion). The liquidity-to-debt ratio is conservative, as it includes authorized but unissued CP. Fitch considers these ratios comparable to recent years, and consistent with the rating category.
The AF calculation excludes significant restricted endowments, including the PUF, which had a combined market value of $26.6 billion at Aug. 31, 2016. The system's strong balance sheet cushion and revenue diversity support the 'AAA' rating.
Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'.
Rating U.S. Public Finance Short-Term Debt (pub. 17 Nov 2015)
Revenue-Supported Rating Criteria (pub. 16 Jun 2014)
U.S. College and University Rating Criteria (pub. 12 May 2014)
Copyright © 2016 by Fitch Ratings, Inc., Fitch Ratings Ltd. and its subsidiaries. 33 Whitehall Street, NY, NY 10004. Telephone: 1-800-753-4824, (212) 908-0500. Fax: (212) 480-4435. Reproduction or retransmission in whole or in part is prohibited except by permission. All rights reserved. In issuing and maintaining its ratings and in making other reports (including forecast information), Fitch relies on factual information it receives from issuers and underwriters and from other sources Fitch believes to be credible. Fitch conducts a reasonable investigation of the factual information relied upon by it in accordance with its ratings methodology, and obtains reasonable verification of that information from independent sources, to the extent such sources are available for a given security or in a given jurisdiction. The manner of Fitch's factual investigation and the scope of the third-party verification it obtains will vary depending on the nature of the rated security and its issuer, the requirements and practices in the jurisdiction in which the rated security is offered and sold and/or the issuer is located, the availability and nature of relevant public information, access to the management of the issuer and its advisers, the availability of pre-existing third-party verifications such as audit reports, agreed-upon procedures letters, appraisals, actuarial reports, engineering reports, legal opinions and other reports provided by third parties, the availability of independent and competent third- party verification sources with respect to the particular security or in the particular jurisdiction of the issuer, and a variety of other factors. Users of Fitch's ratings and reports should understand that neither an enhanced factual investigation nor any third-party verification can ensure that all of the information Fitch relies on in connection with a rating or a report will be accurate and complete. Ultimately, the issuer and its advisers are responsible for the accuracy of the information they provide to Fitch and to the market in offering documents and other reports. In issuing its ratings and its reports, Fitch must rely on the work of experts, including independent auditors with respect to financial statements and attorneys with respect to legal and tax matters. Further, ratings and forecasts of financial and other information are inherently forward-looking and embody assumptions and predictions about future events that by their nature cannot be verified as facts. As a result, despite any verification of current facts, ratings and forecasts can be affected by future events or conditions that were not anticipated at the time a rating or forecast was issued or affirmed.
The information in this report is provided "as is" without any representation or warranty of any kind, and Fitch does not represent or warrant that the report or any of its contents will meet any of the requirements of a recipient of the report. A Fitch rating is an opinion as to the creditworthiness of a security. This opinion and reports made by Fitch are based on established criteria and methodologies that Fitch is continuously evaluating and updating. Therefore, ratings and reports are the collective work product of Fitch and no individual, or group of individuals, is solely responsible for a rating or a report. The rating does not address the risk of loss due to risks other than credit risk, unless such risk is specifically mentioned. Fitch is not engaged in the offer or sale of any security. All Fitch reports have shared authorship. Individuals identified in a Fitch report were involved in, but are not solely responsible for, the opinions stated therein. The individuals are named for contact purposes only. A report providing a Fitch rating is neither a prospectus nor a substitute for the information assembled, verified and presented to investors by the issuer and its agents in connection with the sale of the securities. Ratings may be changed or withdrawn at any time for any reason in the sole discretion of Fitch. Fitch does not provide investment advice of any sort. Ratings are not a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Ratings do not comment on the adequacy of market price, the suitability of any security for a particular investor, or the tax-exempt nature or taxability of payments made in respect to any security. Fitch receives fees from issuers, insurers, guarantors, other obligors, and underwriters for rating securities. Such fees generally vary from US$1,000 to US$750,000 (or the applicable currency equivalent) per issue. In certain cases, Fitch will rate all or a number of issues issued by a particular issuer, or insured or guaranteed by a particular insurer or guarantor, for a single annual fee. Such fees are expected to vary from US$10,000 to US$1,500,000 (or the applicable currency equivalent). The assignment, publication, or dissemination of a rating by Fitch shall not constitute a consent by Fitch to use its name as an expert in connection with any registration statement filed under the United States securities laws, the Financial Services and Markets Act of 2000 of the United Kingdom, or the securities laws of any particular jurisdiction. Due to the relative efficiency of electronic publishing and distribution, Fitch research may be available to electronic subscribers up to three days earlier than to print subscribers.
For Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and South Korea only: Fitch Australia Pty Ltd holds an Australian financial services license (AFS license no. 337123) which authorizes it to provide credit ratings to wholesale clients only. Credit ratings information published by Fitch is not intended to be used by persons who are retail clients within the meaning of the Corporations Act 2001