Global Credit Ratings (GCR) has affrimed the long term and short term national scale issuer ratings of A-(NG) and A2(NG) respectively, assigned to Transcorp Hotels Plc with the outlook accorded as Stable.
The rating firm noted that concurrently, the national scale ratings accorded to the following bond Issuances were also affirmed: Series 1 N10bn Fixed Rate Bond – A-(NG), Stable Outlook; and Series 2 N9.8bn Fixed Rate Bond – A-(NG), Stable Outlook, pointing out that both the long and short term issuer and bond ratings are valid until August 2018.
GCR, in a statement, said it accorded the above credit ratings to Transcorp Hotels Plc because it remains one of the most prominent hotel brands in the country, benefitting from strong shareholder support and an operational agreement with Hilton International.
It point out that although, earnings derive predominantly from the Abuja hotel, construction of Lagos and Port Harcourt hotels will help to diversify revenue sources over the medium term. In the interim, ongoing refurbishments to the core Abuja hotel should consolidate its leading position in the upper scale market.
The challenging operating environment in 2016 (with the economy in recession), drove a significant decline in tourism and hospitality sector volumes, which severely impacted hotel patronage across the country.
Despite this, and given the fact that some floors were shut for renovation (for a number of months), revenue remained resilient, rising by 10% to N15.3bn in FY16. This was largely attributed to the increased business development and marketing activities, which kept occupancy rates at the hotel around 60% (well above the industry average of 35%), and improved inflows from food and beverage.
However, as economic activity remained sluggish at the start of 2017, with patronage reduced by the closure of the Abuja airport for six weeks, 1H FY17 revenue of N6.2bn evidenced a 23% year-on-year decline and lagged budget on an annualised basis.
Notwithstanding the top line growth, the impact of inflation, as well as the devaluation in the Naira value, led to an increase in both direct costs and overheads (personnel, energy), partly reversing gains reported from the implementation of cost saving measures in FY15. Operating income fell to N4.1bn (FY15: N4.7bn), translating to a 26.8% margin, the lowest over the last five years. With economic challenges persisting, and a further reduction in operating income to N856m at 1H FY17, it appears unlikely that the full year profitability target will be achieved.
Cost overruns on current capex projects (including refurbishment of the Abuja hotel) necessitated additional loans to meet the shortfall in funding. As such, total debt rose by a net N3.6bn to a high N24.2bn at 1H FY17. Whilst gross gearing remained moderate at 47% at 1H FY17 (FY16: 41%), gross debt to EBITDA rose to 891% (FY16: 408%) and net interest coverage was relatively low at 1.1x in FY16.
If persisting, such low debt coverage metrics are not consistent with companies in the ‘A’ band. Despite the economic challenges, THP still reports robust operating cash flows (N1.4bn at FY16 and N2.3bn at 1H FY17), underpinned by a strong cash generation and a favourable working capital position.
However, the continued payment of high dividends amidst falling cash flows and high capex, places additional strain on liquidity.
Positive rating action is only likely once the current capex programme is successfully completed, with minimum unexpected costs incurred, as well as an improvement in the operating environment. This should translate to improved earnings and also enhance profitability over the medium term. Conversely, persistently weak debt service metrics could result in negative ratings actions. This could be driven by continued weakness in operating performance, or delays and cost overruns related to capex.