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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
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Fitch Downgrades Cogeco Cable's IDR to 'BB+'; Outlook Stable

Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Issuer Default Rating (IDR) for Cogeco Cable Inc. (Cogeco) to 'BB+' from 'BBB-'. The long-term rating for the secured notes are affirmed at 'BBB-'. Fitch has removed Cogeco from Rating Watch Negative.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

Fitch has downgraded Cogeco's IDR due to the further deterioration in the company's credit profile resulting from closing its more recent debt financed acquisition. Consequently, debt has increased pro forma for the acquisitions to 3.6 times (x) excluding the non-guaranteed debt at Atlantic Broadband (ABB). Cogeco's leverage at the November 2012 closing of the ABB acquisition was 2.7x, an increase from 1.8x. The long-term leverage expectations for Cogeco ratings at the 'BBB-' level was leverage of approximately 2.5x or less. Fitch does not expect Cogeco will reduce leverage back to this range within the next 12-15 months although leverage should reduce going forward due to both cash flow growth and debt repayment but remain above 3x at year-end 2013.

The 'BB+' ratings reflect Cogeco Cable's stable operating profile and the strength of the Canadian operations that generate the majority of the company's revenue and cash flow. Fitch believes that the Canadian operations are well supported by Cogeco Cable's competitive position anchored by its high speed internet and triple play offering. The cable systems are also clustered in less concentrated and generally less competitive suburban regions.

The PEER 1 Network Enterprises Inc. (PEER 1) acquisition offers a diversified faster growing revenue stream although it has some elevated execution risk as Cogeco pursues growth and investment opportunities outside of their traditional cable footprint. PEER 1's core business of managed services and web hosting is highly and increasingly competitive. PEER 1 focuses on delivering quality service and support to differentiate from competition that is mainly from managed and dedicated cloud providers along with local and regional operators. PEER 1 has a relatively large SMB customer base with no customer representing more than 5% of revenues.

Fitch does not expect PEER 1 operations to contribute meaningful free cash flow during the next several years given the higher capital intensity rates and need to further scale the operations. Thus PEER 1 could require additional working capital to support ongoing operations and expansion. LTM EBITDA and capital spending were both approximately CAD40 million.

Cogeco's strategic shift in pursuing its last two acquisitions is a result of the maturing of cable services and the competitive intensity that has lowered growth prospects for the cable operations. The competitive intensity in Canada is expected to increase with additional IPTV footprint expansion through fiber-to-the-home overbuilds in a material portion of Cogeco's regions. This will increase the pressure on primary service unit additions which have been decreasing due to factors mentioned above along with economic uncertainty and the tightening of credit controls. Fitch believes Cogeco also needs to upgrade technology supporting its video offering to better match capabilities with the telco's IPTV video service.

Cogeco should be able to mitigate revenue pressure through rate increases and SMB primary service unit additions which will become an increasingly important offset. In addition, the enterprise services segment provides a growing diversified revenue stream with good margins. Cogeco's capital spending intensity has been elevated relative to its peers due to success-based spending within this segment.

Cogeco used a material portion of its liquidity position to close the ABB acquisition. Cogeco's main sources of liquidity are through its credit facilities, cash position, and free cash flow (FCF). As of Nov. 30, 2012, Cogeco Cable had drawn down CAD584 million on its CAD750 million credit facility due 2017 and had CAD9 million of cash. In connection with the PEER 1 closing, Cogeco entered into new acquisition facilities. This includes a four year CAD250 million secured revolving credit facility and a four year approximately CAD equivalent $400 million secured term loan as a portion of the draw was in US dollars.

Going forward, Fitch expects Cogeco will restore at least a portion of its liquidity position using FCF to pay down the revolver over the next couple of years. Free cash flow (FCF) for the fiscal year 2012 was CAD42 million after dividend payment. Cogeco's current FCF guidance (excluding PEER 1) after dividend payment for FY2013 is in excess of CAD100 million.

Cogeco's conservative financial policies also support its current ratings. The company does not have an active share program. Additionally the most recent dividend increase of 4% is lower than in the past reflecting in part the increased leverage resulting from the acquisition.

Importantly, Fitch believes the new ABB subsidiary should be in a self-funding position. This is supported by ABB's current cash generation, a substantial tax shield related to net operating losses, a competitive environment with limited triple play competition and the expected growth from increasing underpenetrated services. ABB will increase success-based capital spending which should improve its competitive position relative to satellite operators which is the primary competitor in approximately three quarters of its markets.

SENSITIVITY/RATING DRIVERS

Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating include:

--Cogeco Cable leverage stays in the mid 3.5x range reflecting lack of cash flow growth and debt reduction;

--An additional material leveraging transaction;

--Greater than expected IPTV competition in Cogeco Cable territory that adversely affects operating trends;

--Negative operating trends in the Atlantic Broadband operations that requires Cogeco Cable to infuse additional funding;

--Large debt-financed acquisition;

--Reduced free cash flow prospects.

Positive: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating include:

--Cogeco Cable leverage improves to less than 2.5x due to strong cash growth and debt reduction;

--Good operating trends across its three business segments;

--Pre-dividend FCF to sales of greater than 10%;

--Financial policy to maintain leverage below 2.5x.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'. The ratings above were solicited by, or on behalf of, the issuer, and therefore, Fitch has been compensated for the provision of the ratings.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

--'Corporate Rating Methodology' (Aug. 8, 2012);

--'Rating Telecom Companies: Sector Credit Factors' (Aug. 9, 2012).

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

Corporate Rating Methodology

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=684460

Rating Telecom Companies

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=682323

ALL FITCH CREDIT RATINGS ARE SUBJECT TO CERTAIN LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS. PLEASE READ THESE LIMITATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS BY FOLLOWING THIS LINK: HTTP://FITCHRATINGS.COM/UNDERSTANDINGCREDITRATINGS. IN ADDITION, RATING DEFINITIONS AND THE TERMS OF USE OF SUCH RATINGS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE AGENCY'S PUBLIC WEBSITE 'WWW.FITCHRATINGS.COM'. PUBLISHED RATINGS, CRITERIA AND METHODOLOGIES ARE AVAILABLE FROM THIS SITE AT ALL TIMES. FITCH'S CODE OF CONDUCT, CONFIDENTIALITY, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST, AFFILIATE FIREWALL, COMPLIANCE AND OTHER RELEVANT POLICIES AND PROCEDURES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE FROM THE 'CODE OF CONDUCT' SECTION OF THIS SITE.

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