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Avon refinancing positive sign, analyst says

NEW YORK (AP) -- Avon Products Inc.'s debt refinancing is another sign the direct seller of beauty products may be righting the ship, one analyst said Friday.

Avon has embarked on a turnaround plan after suffering through declining sales, a bribery investigation and other problems. It hired new CEO Sheri McCoy last April and has begun to slash costs, hoping to save $400 million in three years, cut its dividend, laid off workers and exited some less profitable markets like Vietnam and South Korea.

On Tuesday, Avon issued $1.5 billion in senior unsecured notes, and will use proceeds to refinance debt and for general corporate purposes. Credit ratings agencies noted the move favorably.

Standard & Poor's said the debt sale will decrease Avon's debt in the long run. It gave a "BBB-" rating to the notes, which is the lowest investment-grade rating. Moody's set a "Baa2" rating, a medium investment grade, on the notes. Fitch Ratings, meanwhile, gave the notes a "BB+" rating, the highest non-investment, or "junk," rating.

"While there were some early signs of stabilization in Avon's Latin American and European segments which generate almost 90 percent of operating earnings before corporate overhead, it is too early to ascertain its sustainability," Fitch said in a statement.

Citi Investment Research analyst Wendy Nicholson mentioned the credit ratings' favorable response in a note to investors and called the notes "another big step forward" for the company.

"Slowly but surely, investor confidence in this management team and in the story is improving," she said. "We think that Avon's recent refinancing is another step in that process." She kept her "Buy" rating on the stock.

Shares slipped 7 cents to $19.72 in afternoon trading.