Fitch Upgrades Springleaf to 'B-'; Outlook Stable

Business Wire

NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--

Fitch Ratings has upgraded the long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) and senior unsecured debt ratings of Springleaf Finance Corporation (Springleaf) to 'B-' from 'CCC' and assigned a Stable Rating Outlook. Fitch has also upgraded the preferred stock ratings of AGFC Capital Trust I to 'CC/RR6' from 'C/RR6'.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

The rating upgrades primarily reflect the significant progress made by the company toward repaying near-term debt and extending its liquidity runway, combined with improved operating performance, highlighted by the return to profitability in 2Q13. These improvements are counterbalanced by significant remaining debt maturities in 2017, as well as the monoline nature of Springleaf's business of lending to subprime consumers, which will attract increased regulatory scrutiny.

Pro forma for actions taken subsequent to quarter end (e.g. secured loan paydowns, real estate securitization, termination of swap positions), Fitch estimates the company had $995 million of unrestricted cash at June 30, 2013, which could be used to fund new loan originations and/or repay debt. The company could also elect to sell a portion (or all) of its investment portfolio ($546 million at June 30, 2013) or securitize unencumbered assets (estimated pro forma $1.9 billion at June 30, 2013) in order to generate incremental liquidity. Fitch believes the company has adequate sources of liquidity to originate new loans and meet its debt obligations through 2016.

That said, Fitch remains concerned with the company's $5.1 billion of debt maturing in 2017. Fitch expects the company to seek to refinance at least a portion of this debt via the capital markets, although this strategy carries execution risk, particularly in a rising rate environment. Absent refinancing of a material portion of the debt, Fitch believes that Springleaf could be challenged to meet its 2017 debt maturities.

Leverage, as measured by adjusted debt to adjusted tangible equity, declined to 8.2x at June 30, 2013 from 9.2x in 2012. However, reported leverage is calculated on a push-down accounting basis following the majority sale of Springleaf to Fortress Investment Group LLC from American International Group, Inc. in 2010. Fitch also views leverage on a historical cost basis, which adds back the asset and debt discounts recorded as part of the application of push-down accounting. On this basis, Fitch estimates leverage was 9.4x at June 30, 2013. Under both metrics, Fitch views Springleaf's leverage as improved, but still higher than other subprime lenders.

The Stable Outlook reflects Fitch's view that Springleaf's liquidity profile, leverage and operating performance have stabilized, and may potentially improve over the near to intermediate term, absent a material market stress.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Fitch believes additional upward rating momentum could potentially be warranted if 2017 debt maturities are proactively addressed, profitability is sustained over an extended period of time, asset quality is further improved, and leverage declines to a level more in-line with higher rated consumer finance companies. That said, potential upward momentum would likely be limited to a below investment grade level, given Springleaf's monoline focus on subprime consumer lending and the potential for increased regulatory scrutiny.

Conversely, an inability to refinance existing debt at reasonable costs, substantial credit quality deterioration, potential new and more onerous rules and regulations, as well as potential shareholder-friendly actions given the high private equity ownership, could generate negative rating momentum or may result in notching the senior unsecured rating below the current IDR.

Fitch has upgraded the following ratings:

Springleaf Finance Corporation

--Long-term IDR to 'B-' from 'CCC'

- Senior unsecured debt to 'B-/RR4' from 'CCC/RR4'

AGFC Capital Trust I

--Preferred stock to 'CC/RR6' from 'C/RR6'

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

--Global Financial Institutions Rating Criteria, Aug. 15, 2012;

--Finance and Leasing Companies Criteria, Dec. 11, 2012;

--Recovery Ratings for Financial Institutions, Aug. 19, 2013;

--Treatment and Notching of Hybrids in Nonfinancial Corporate and REIT Credit Analysis, Dec. 13, 2012.

Applicable Criteria and Related Research:

Global Financial Institutions Rating Criteria

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=686181

Finance and Leasing Companies Criteria

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=696720

Recovery Ratings for Financial Institutions

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=716302

Treatment and Notching of Hybrids in Nonfinancial Corporate and REIT Credit Analysis

http://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=696670

Additional Disclosure

Solicitation Status

http://www.fitchratings.com/gws/en/disclosure/solicitation?pr_id=800920

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Contact:
Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Brendan Sheehy
Director
+1-212-908-9138
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
One State Street Plaza
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Johann Juan
Director
+1-312-368-3339
or
Committee Chairperson
Nathan Flanders
Managing Director
+1-212-908-0827
or
Media Relations
Elizabeth Fogerty
+1-212-908-0526
elizabeth.fogerty@fitchratings.com

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