Fitch Ratings (Thailand) has downgraded Siam Future Development Public Company Limited's (SF) National Long-Term Rating and senior unsecured debt rating to 'BBB-(tha)' from 'BBB(tha)'. The Outlook is Negative. Simultaneously, the agency has affirmed its National Short-Term Rating at 'F3(tha)'.
The downgrade reflects Fitch's expectation that SF's financial leverage will rise significantly beyond the level consistent with a 'BBB(tha)' rating in 2020-2021, due to the impact on its shopping centres from the coronavirus pandemic and resultant economic downturn and a relatively inflexible cost structure as well as large capex plan during 2020-2022.
Fitch expects the impact to last at least the next three to six months, even after the relaxation of the lockdown measures in late May and the re-opening of non-essential businesses, as store traffic will only resume gradually leaving retailers unprofitable for longer. A normalisation of revenue could be at least 18-24 months away. The rating may be downgraded further if SF is not on track to reduce funds flow from operations (FFO) net leverage to around 8.0x by 2022.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
Heightened Financial Leverage: Fitch expects SF's FFO net leverage to surge to 13x-15x in 2020-2021, and then decline to 8.0x by 2022. SF's cash flow generation will be severely affected by the shopping centre closures for about two months in 2020 and only a slow resumption of normal consumer traffic for the rest of the year.
Against this backdrop, the company has to continue to pay inflexible rent to land owners, which comprises a large portion of cost. SF also paid a large one-off dividend in April 2020, which reduced its rating headroom before the pandemic hit. In addition, the company plans large capex of about THB1.5 billion during 2020-2022, including the THB350 million extension of a land lease on an existing centre in 1Q20, the new mixed-use project at Thong Lor and a new neighbourhood centre, although there is flexibility to defer the new projects.
SF expects the new mixed-use project to be completed by end-2022. The project consists of retail space of about 10,000 sq m, with construction costs of about THB800 million-THB900 million. The project will also have the office zone, which will be invested in, and operated by, the partner. For the new neighbourhood centre, it will be a typical community mall of about 6,000 sq m in the eastern suburbs of Bangkok. The project is planned to open within 2021.
Severe Pandemic-Related Impact: SF's revenue in 2020 is likely to decrease by 46%-48% due to rental rebates given to retail tenants affected by the mall closures. We believe the recovery in the top line will be slow due to the weakening of consumer purchasing power and a slow recovery in consumer traffic to its shopping centres due to changes in consumer behaviour. Fitch expects SF's revenue to recover to 80%-85% of 2019 levels in 2021, and 90%-95% in 2022. We believe SF's 49% JV Mega Bangna shopping centre to recover at a similar pace and therefore have not factored in any dividends from this investment in 2021.
Defensible Market Position: SF's granular portfolio of shopping centres, and significant experience in managing the properties for more than 20 years gives it an advantage over its peers in developing mid-sized open-air malls. Most of SF's properties are of high-quality and are diversified in terms of location. The portfolio occupancy has remained higher than 85%, although some of its community malls are not as cash accretive as the company had expected. SF's strategy is to focus on expanding existing shopping centres with proven performance, and to change the mall concepts and tenant mix of weaker centres to attract more traffic. SF's average portfolio occupancy was 92% before the pandemic, with an average rental increase of 3%-4% in 2019 from 2018.
Exposure to Small Businesses: SF has high exposure in the domestic economy to smaller retailers who will be affected more from the current downturn. Therefore, in spite of the company's revenue visibility from its lease income, we expect SF's revenue to be affected severely from the unprecedented social-distancing requirements precipitated by the pandemic. SF's exposure to its top 10 tenants - which accounted for around 25%-26% of revenue - mitigate this impact as most of them have strong business profiles and are supermarkets, which are less affected by the pandemic.
Lease expiries are manageable with 12% and 13% of gross leasable area (GLA) coming due in 2020 and 2021, respectively. SF says that generally more than 80% of its maturing leases are renewed by existing tenants with a typical rental increase of 5%-10% upon renewal for a three-year lease contract. However, we have factored in a possible negative rollover rate on renewal and higher non-renewal rate in 2020-2021 due to the downturn.
Secured Debt to Increase: SF plans to use project-financing loans for its new projects in 2021-2022. Therefore, secured debt is likely to rise, leading to an increase in prior-ranking debt/EBITDA to above 2.0x - the threshold beyond which Fitch may notch unsecured debt for material subordination (2019: 1.2x). However, Fitch also takes into consideration SF's unencumbered assets/unsecured net debt, which stood at about 5.0x at end-2019, in light of the asset-heavy nature of SF's business. This is substantially stronger than the 2.0x threshold below which Fitch may consider notching the unsecured debt of property investment companies.
SF is a leading community mall developer in Thailand. Its closest rated peer is JWD InfoLogistics Public Company Limited (JWD, BBB(tha)/Stable), a leading full-service in-land logistics provider in Thailand. SF has a stronger business profile in our assessment, taking into account its stronger contractual revenue visibility than JWD and higher EBITDA margin as it can pass-on more of its operating costs to its tenants. However, SF's shopping mall business is more severely affected by the pandemic than JWD's diversified logistic services, and is likely to take more than a year to recover due to weakening purchasing power and changes in consumer behaviour. SF's financial profile is also weaker than JWD's, as we expect the large capex plan to increase financial leverage.
SF is rated one notch lower than the 'bbb(tha)' Standalone Credit Profile of IRPC Public Company Limited (A-(tha)/Stable), to reflect SF's weaker financial profile. The financial leverage of both companies is likely to surge to a similar range in 2020, but IRPC should deleverage at a faster pace than SF. Both companies have a similar business risk as SF's smaller operating scale is compensated by the greater stability of its cash flow versus the susceptibility of IRPCs cash flow to commodity price cycles.
Fitch's Key Assumptions Within Our Rating Case for the Issuer
- A 46%-48% decrease in revenue in 2020, before growth of 55%-57% in 2021 and 15%-17% in 2022
- EBITDA to fall to around THB20 million in 2020, before recovering to around THB300 million in 2021 (2019: THB446 million)
- Aggregate capex of THB1.4 billion-1.5 billion (including maintenance capex) in 2020-2022
- No dividend receipts from Mega Bangna in 2021 and about THB98 million in 2022 (2020: THB197 million)
Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to positive rating action/upgrade:
- The Outlook could be revised to Stable if FFO net leverage is on track to decline to below 8.0x by 2022 and its FFO fixed-charge coverage improving to above 1.5x.
Factors that could, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action/downgrade:
- FFO net leverage not on track to reduce to below 8.0x by 2022
- FFO fixed-charge coverage not on track to improve to more than 1.5x by 2022
BEST/WORST CASE RATING SCENARIO
International scale credit ratings of Non-Financial Corporate issuers have a best-case rating upgrade scenario (defined as the 99th percentile of rating transitions, measured in a positive direction) of three notches over a three-year rating horizon; and a worst-case rating downgrade scenario (defined as the 99th percentile of rating transitions, measured in a negative direction) of four notches over three years. The complete span of best- and worst-case scenario credit ratings for all rating categories ranges from 'AAA' to 'D'. Best- and worst-case scenario credit ratings are based on historical performance. For more information about the methodology used to determine sector-specific best- and worst-case scenario credit ratings, visit https://www.fitchratings.com/site/re/10111579.
LIQUIDITY AND DEBT STRUCTURE
Manageable Refinancing Risk: SF's total debt at end-March 2020 was THB2.9 billion, of which THB1.4 billion will mature in the next 12 months. Most of the debt consists of short-term loans from banks, which we expect will be rolled over, particularly as SF has a large unencumbered asset portfolio of more than THB10 billion that can be pledged, if required. SF recently secured additional three- to five-year term facilities from banks both on a secured and clean basis, to refinance some of its short-term loans, underscoring its domestic bank access.
SUMMARY OF FINANCIAL ADJUSTMENTS
- To include rent paid, recorded as repayment for finance lease liabilities, in cost of services and remove finance costs on recording investment property under capital lease from expenses in the income statement
- To deduct other operating income and non-operating income from revenue
- To exclude non-cash realised unearned rental income and include other operating income in calculation of EBITDA
- To exclude change in short-term investment, change in amount due to - and from - related parties, and the portion of change in finance lease liabilities already recognised as rental expenses in the profit and loss account, from change in working capital.
REFERENCES FOR SUBSTANTIALLY MATERIAL SOURCE CITED AS KEY DRIVER OF RATING
The principal sources of information used in the analysis are described in the Applicable Criteria.
Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com