TEXT - S&P affirms Montreal, Canada's ratings

Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:11pm EST
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article
[-] Text [+]

Overview
     -- We are affirming our 'A+' long-term issuer credit and senior unsecured 
debt ratings on the City of Montreal.
     -- The affirmation reflects our favorable view of the city's strong 
operating and after-capital results in 2011, good economic performance, and 
adequate liquidity. 
     -- The stable outlook reflects our expectations that Montreal will 
continue to produce strong operating and after-capital results, the economy 
will increase moderately in 2012 and 2013, liquidity will remain adequate, and 
the recent turbulence in political leadership will steadily subside with the 
appointment of an interim mayor.

Rating Action
On Nov. 13, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services affirmed its 'A+' 
long-term issuer credit and senior unsecured debt ratings on the City of 
Montreal, in the Province of Quebec (A+/Stable/A-1+). The outlook is stable.

Rationale
The ratings on Montreal reflect what we consider to be the following positive 
factors:
     -- What we believe to be strong operating and after-capital results 
continued in 2011. The operating surplus improved to 15% of operating 
revenues, up from 14% a year earlier. The improvement came as increases in key 
revenue sources (property taxes, fees, and subsidies) surpassed those of key 
expenditures, such as firefighting and policing and transportation. The 
after-capital surplus also strengthened in 2011 to 4% of total revenues from 
3% in 2010 and was the best result the city has turned in since the recession 
despite the fourth-highest capital program on record. For 2012 and 2013, we 
expect operating surpluses of 10%-15% of projected operating revenues, with 
after-capital results that are close to balance.
     -- Montreal's deep and diversified economy produced good results in 2011, 
in our view. GDP (at basic prices) increased about 5% in the year, according 
to provincial estimates. Despite the output growth, the labor force did not 
respond as favorably. The Montreal unemployment rate was unchanged in 2011, at 
9.7%. Employment, on the other hand, declined almost 4%. Labor force results 
were somewhat better in the Montreal census metropolitan area (CMA). The 
unemployment rate fell slightly to 8.3% in 2011 from 8.6% (the provincial 
unemployment rate was 7.8%). CMA employment was unchanged. Construction 
activity indicators rose strongly in 2011. The value of building permits rose 
46% in 2011 and housing starts were up 29%. The tax assessment base rose 1% in 
2011. The province projects moderate levels of job creation and real GDP 
growth of 1%-2% in 2012 and 2013, but with little improvement in the 
unemployment rate. We expect that the Montreal area should match or outperform 
the province, being Quebec's chief urban center and economic engine. We 
believe the extent and sustainability of the U.S. recovery and the potential 
for European debt risks to spill over onto the global economy are the chief 
risks to the city and province's economic outlook.
     -- We believe liquidity levels are adequate. Montreal had cash and 
temporary investments of slightly more than C$1.2 billion at year-end 2011, 
which was up from C$1.0 billion at the end of 2010. As well, the city held 
sinking funds totaling C$1.5 billion at that time. By our calculation, those 
cash and investment holdings translated into estimated free cash and liquid 
assets of slightly less than C$1.1 billion. The ratio of free cash and liquid 
assets plus committed facilities to prospective debt service cost was close to 
90%. As one of the largest municipal issuers in the country, Montreal also has 
strong access to Canada's well-developed capital markets, in our view. The 
city also has bank lines of credit totaling C$313 million, of which C$6 
million had been used at the end of 2011. 

We believe the following factors partially offset these credit strengths:
     -- Montreal's debt burden is still high compared with those of peers 
(especially Canadian), although it fell in 2011 for the second consecutive 
year. At the end of 2011, tax-supported debt, which was unchanged from the 
previous year at C$7.4 billion, represented 136% of operating revenues. 
Montreal planned to issue about C$1.0 billion in 2012. We estimated the 
tax-supported debt burden could rise to as high as 142% of projected operating 
revenues, with tax-supported debt reaching C$7.9 billion by the end of the 
year, and then stabilizing in 2013.  We believe, however, that the city will 
actually issue about C$500 million only in 2012 and that actual issuance will 
be lower than planned as well in 2013. 
     -- The mayor, who was in his third-term in office, resigned recently in 
the wake of a corruption scandal. The scandal involves the alleged 
price-fixing of construction contracts, including municipal contracts. The 
province has formed a commission, which is investigating the allegations. We 
believe that the mayor's resignation, appointment of an interim mayor, the 
possibility of continued revelations from the commission, and the upcoming 
municipal elections in November 2013 could distract council somewhat from the 
process of governing, including passing the 2013 budget (among other 
priorities). 

Outlook
The stable outlook reflects Standard & Poor's expectation that Montreal will 
continue to produce strong operating surpluses (greater than 10% of operating 
revenues) and near-balanced after-capital results in the next two years. We 
expect the recent turbulence in political leadership will steadily subside 
with the appointment of an interim mayor. The city's economy should continue 
increasing in 2012 and 2013 with moderate GDP growth and job creation, but 
with little improvement in the unemployment rate. We further expect that 
Montreal will maintain adequate liquidity levels with cash and investment 
holdings close to C$1.0 billion and that the tax-supported debt burden will 
stabilize in 2013. A significant decline in liquidity, the spread of 
turbulence in political leadership to the administration, operating surpluses 
that remain below 10% of operating revenues, and the return of consecutive 
after-capital deficits in the next two years could place downward pressure on 
the ratings. Although we don't expect it, a sustained, material decline in the 
debt burden coupled with strengthening cash and investment holdings and 
continued solid financial results would be preconditions for an upgrade.

Related Criteria And Research
Methodology For Rating International Local And Regional Governments, Sept. 20, 
2010

Ratings List
Ratings Affirmed

Montreal (City of)
 Issuer credit rating                   A+/Stable/--       
 Senior unsecured debt                  A+