Lower Grades

By John Liang / February 10, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Textron's sales of the V-22 Osprey and other products to the Defense Department may be one of the few things keeping the company's debt rating from truly tanking, according to a report issued yesterday by debt-rating agency Fitch Ratings:

Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) and long-term debt ratings for Textron Inc. (TXT) and Textron Financial Corporation (TFC) to ‘BBB-’ from ‘BBB’. In addition, the short-term IDRs and commercial paper ratings have been downgraded to ‘F3’ from ‘F2’. The Rating Outlook is Negative.

At the same time, Fitch has downgraded and simultaneously withdrawn its ratings for TXT’s preferred securities due to the small amount outstanding. Debt and preferred securities totaled nearly $11 billion at Jan. 3, 2009, including $2.5 billion at TXT and $8.3 billion at TFC. . . .

The downgrade of TXT’s and TFC’s ratings recognizes execution risks related to TFC’s plans to exit its non-captive finance business, as well as difficult economic conditions that could pressure TFC’s asset quality and financial performance at TXT’s manufacturing businesses. These factors could lead to liquidity pressures in 2010 in the absence of asset sales or capital market transactions. Other developments considered in the ratings include the full drawdown of the company’s committed bank facilities and the recently announced management changes, which emphasize the broad challenges facing the company.

Here's what Fitch had to say about Textron's manufacturing business, of which the V-22 is a big part (through its Bell Helicopter subdivision):

At TXT, the ratings incorporate Fitch’s view that TXT’s manufacturing businesses will generate positive free cash flow, albeit at lower levels than in the past due to weaker demand at Cessna and for the Industrial segment. In late January 2009, TXT lowered its estimate for deliveries in 2009 to 375 aircraft, a nearly 20% reduction from the 467 jets that were delivered in 2008. In Fitch’s view, the reduction understates the decline in demand because the mix of low-end Mustangs has been increasing. As a result of higher deferrals and sharply lower orders, deliveries could potentially remain at lower levels for a sustained period. However, the impact is partly offset by Cessna’s large backlog that totaled $14.5 billion at the end of 2008 after peaking at $15.6 billion in September 2008. The outlook for TXT’s Bell and Defense & Intelligence segments is more stable, helping to mitigate concerns about declining demand for business jets and difficult conditions in TXT’s Industrial segment.

While Textron's overall defense business looks safe, implementing the Pentagon's earned-value management rules has been a challenge, as Inside the Pentagon reported late last month:

When contractors fail to follow the rules, they risk losing their certification. That happened to Bell Helicopter Textron in March 2006; the company has struggled ever since to earn it back. Bell again failed to reach this goal during ((the Defense Contract Management Agency's)) most recent review of the company last November. The next such review is slated for March.

Fitch put out the rating in the wake of Textron's reshuffling of the folks in charge of its soon-to-be-defunct financing business earlier this morning. In December, the company announced it was getting out of the financing business altogether.

At the very least, yesterday’s news should make the company's presentation today at an industry conference in Miami Beach, FL, rather interesting.