U.S. Markets closed

Ratings agencies downgrade Weather Channel

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Weather Channel ran into a perfect storm of downgrades on Thursday, as Moody's and Standard & Poor's both lowered their debt ratings on it after the company said it would borrow $600 million to pay a special dividend to its owners.

TWCC Holding Corp. plans to pay the money as a dividend to shareholders Bain Capital Partners, Blackstone Management Partners, and NBCUniversal Media.

Moody's Investors Service wrote that privately held TWCC generates some $100 million in cash per year. But Moody's expects the company to use much of that money to pay for acquisitions or future dividends.

Moody's used to give the company credit for its partial ownership by NBC, "with the expectation that NBCU as a strategic investor would exert a conservative influence on TWCC's financial policy," especially considering its veto rights over dividends. However, the debt to pay for the new dividend "demonstrates that NBCU is comfortable with high leverage at TWCC, and signals that it does not view TWCC as a strategic core-asset, but as an opportunistic investment," Moody's wrote.

Moody's dropped TWCC's corporate family rating to "B1," from "Ba3."

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services wrote that company's growth prospects are limited because it is already distributed on most U.S. cable systems. It dropped TWCC's corporate credit rating to "B'' from "B+."

The Moody's and S&P ratings are non-investment or "junk" grade.