Reuters logo
TEXT-Fitch revises Calpine Corp rating outlook
May 30, 2012 / 3:37 PM / 6 years ago

TEXT-Fitch revises Calpine Corp rating outlook

May 30 - Fitch Ratings has affirmed the Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) and
security ratings of Calpine Corp. (Calpine) and its subsidiary, Calpine
Construction Finance Company (CCFC) and revised the Rating Outlook for 	
both companies to Positive from Stable. A full list of rating actions follows at	
the end of this release.	
	
The Outlook revision is driven by Fitch's view that the fundamental positioning 	
of the company in the merchant generation space continues to improve. This is 	
leading to accelerated strengthening of credit metrics compared to Fitch's prior	
expectations. 	
	
Some of the key trends in the U.S. power generation sector, namely tightening 	
environmental regulations, looming generation scarcity in certain markets such 	
as in the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and a sharp fall in 	
natural gas prices in the recent months that has reversed coal-to-gas spreads, 	
are all favorable for Calpine. These trends are reflected in Fitch's upwardly 	
revised EBITDA and cash flow estimates for 2012 as Calpine has benefited from a 	
run up in market heat rates in ERCOT and significant coal-to-gas switching in 	
various power regions it operates in. 	
	
A prolonged low natural gas price environment and, consequently, depressed 	
economics, is likely to further accelerate the pace of retirements at several 	
coal-fired power plants. Fitch expects this trend to further bolster Calpine's 	
competitive position and support improved credit metrics in 2013 and beyond. 	
Longer-term, Calpine remains positively leveraged to a recovery in natural gas 	
prices with its highly efficient fleet and natural gas being on the margin for 	
power prices in most of the markets Calpine operates in. 	
	
Calpine's 'B' IDR reflects the company's high consolidated gross leverage, 	
relatively stable EBITDA (due to lower sensitivity to changes in natural gas 	
prices as compared to other coal/ nuclear competitive power generators), strong 	
liquidity position including a growing free cash flow profile, manageable debt 	
maturities and consistently demonstrated capital market access.	
	
Fitch estimates Calpine's consolidated gross leverage to be approximately 5.9x 	
and funds flow from operations (FFO) to total debt to reach 10% in 2013, which 	
is in line with Fitch's guideline ratios for a high risk 'B' rated issuer. Fitch	
expects Calpine's gross leverage to approach a range of 4.5 - 5.0x and FFO to 	
total debt to be in the 12-14% range by 2015. Given the company's strong excess 	
cash position, the net leverage metrics are much stronger. Management has a 	
stated net leverage target of 4.5x, which Fitch expects to be reached by 2014. 	
	
Fitch expects Calpine to be a strong cash flow generator over the forecast 	
period. Calpine's announced growth plans consists of construction of two 	
contracted assets, Russell City and Los Esteros. Russell City is a 619 MW net 	
baseload capacity natural gas combined cycle plant in which Calpine has a 75% 	
ownership interest. The full output of the plant is committed to Pacific Gas & 	
Electric (PG&E) under a 10-year PPA. The Los Esteros generating facility will be	
upgraded from a 188 MW simple-cycle generation plant to 309 MW combined cycle 	
plant, which also has a 10-year PPA with PG&E. Both of these plants are being 	
financed with project debt, which is non-recourse to the parent. 	
	
Calpine recently announced three additional generation projects: 1) Deer Park 	
expansion, a 260 MW combined cycle plant expected to be operational by June 2014	
at an expected  capital cost of less than $550/kw; 2) Channel expansion, a 260 	
MW combined cycle plant that is expected to be operational by June 2014 at an 	
expected  capital cost of less than $550/kw; and 3) Garrison, a 309 MW combined 	
cycle plant that is expected to be operational by June 2015 at a capital cost of	
less than $800/kw. Highly competitive cost of construction compared to new entry	
costs and location in favorable markets assuage Fitch's concerns regarding the 	
uncontracted basis of these assets. 	
	
Fitch expects Calpine to generate upwards of $600 million in free cash flow in 	
2014 and beyond. These free cash flow estimates incorporate both maintenance 	
capex and growth capex based on announced new projects. Fitch does not expect 	
management to proactively reduce debt from the current levels aside from the 	
scheduled debt maturities/ amortizations. Over the last 12 months, management 	
has announced $600 million in share repurchases, which has been above Fitch's 	
expectations. The level of free cash flow generation is strong enough to 	
accommodate modest level of share repurchases, which is incorporated in Fitch's 	
forecasts. However, it is Fitch's expectation that management prudently invests 	
excess cash flow proceeds in growth oriented projects and continues to manage 	
its balance sheet in a conservative manner. Fitch acknowledges the success that 	
Calpine has had in simplifying its capital structure, pushing out debt 	
maturities and gaining financial flexibility in capital allocation decisions. 	
	
Calpine's liquidity position is strong with approximately $1.07 billion of cash 	
and cash equivalents and $649 million of availability under the corporate 	
revolver, as of March 31, 2012. Variability in collateral postings driven by 	
$1/MMBtu move in natural gas price movements is higher than it was a year ago, 	
however, strong current liquidity and excess cash flow generation provide 	
adequate cushion to unexpected large movements in natural gas prices.	
	
Fitch expects to resolve its Positive Outlook for Calpine over the next 12-24 	
months after gaining further evidence of how Calpine's fleet fares in the 	
current commodity environment. Any material change in the company's capital 	
allocation decisions will also play a part in the future rating decisions by 	
Fitch, most notably the pace of share repurchases. A significant proportion of 	
growth capex diverted towards merchant assets could be a cause for concern. 	
	
In accordance with its Parent and Subsidiary Rating Linkage Criteria, Fitch is 	
currently linking the IDRs of Calpine and CCFC. Calpine and CCFC are distinct 	
issuers, the subsidiary debt is non-recourse to the parent, and there are no 	
cross-guarantees or cross-default provisions between the two entities. However, 	
there are strong contractual, operational and management ties between Calpine 	
and CCFC. CCFC sells a majority of its power plant output under a long-term 	
tolling arrangement with Calpine's wholly owned marketing subsidiary. CCFC is 	
also a party to a master operation and maintenance agreement and a master 	
maintenance services agreement with another wholly owned Calpine subsidiary. For	
these reasons, Fitch is assigning the same IDR to CCFC as the parent even though	
its standalone credit profile is stronger.	
	
Recovery Analysis:	
	
The individual security ratings at Calpine are notched above or below the IDR, 	
as a result of the relative recovery prospects in a hypothetical default 	
scenario. 	
	
Fitch values the power generation assets that guarantee the parent debt using a 	
net present value (NPV) analysis. A similar NPV analysis is used to value the 	
generation assets that reside in non-guarantor subs and the excess equity value 	
is added to the parent recovery prospects. The generation asset NPVs vary 	
significantly based on future gas price assumptions and other variables, such as	
the discount rate and heat rate forecasts in California, ERCOT and the 	
Northeast. For the NPV of generation assets used in Fitch's recovery analysis, 	
Fitch uses the plant valuation provided by its third-party power market 	
consultant, Wood Mackenzie as well as Fitch's own gas price deck and other 	
assumptions. 	
	
Fitch has affirmed Calpine's corporate revolving facility, first lien credit 	
facility and senior secured notes, which rank pari passu, at 'BB/RR1'. The 'RR1'	
rating reflects a three-notch positive differential from the 'B' IDR and 	
indicates that Fitch estimates outstanding recovery of 91-100%. Similarly for 	
CCFC, Fitch has affirmed the senior secured notes at 'BB/RR1'. 	
	
Fitch has affirmed the following ratings with a Positive Outlook:	
	
Calpine	
--IDR at 'B';	
--Corporate revolving facility at 'BB/RR1';	
--Senior secured first lien term loan at 'BB/RR1';	
--Senior secured first lien notes at 'BB/RR1'. 	
	
CCFC	
--IDR at 'B';	
--Senior secured notes at 'BB/RR1'.

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
0 : 0
  • narrow-browser-and-phone
  • medium-browser-and-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser
  • wide-browser-and-larger
  • medium-browser-and-landscape-tablet
  • medium-wide-browser-and-larger
  • above-phone
  • portrait-tablet-and-above
  • above-portrait-tablet
  • landscape-tablet-and-above
  • landscape-tablet-and-medium-wide-browser
  • portrait-tablet-and-below
  • landscape-tablet-and-below