July 20, 2016 - 4:54 PM EDT
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Fitch Affirms Hawaiian Electric Industries at 'BBB'; Outlook Stable

Fitch Ratings has affirmed Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc.'s (HEI) Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at 'BBB' following the rejection by the Hawaii Public Utility Commission (HPUC) of the proposed acquisition by NextEra Energy, Inc. (NextEra, rated 'A-'/Stable Outlook) and subsequent termination of the merger agreement. The ratings have been removed from Rating Watch Positive. Fitch placed the ratings for HEI on Positive Watch on Dec. 4, 2014 following HEI's announced agreement to be acquired by Nextera. Fitch has also affirmed the Long-Term IDR of Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc (HECO) at 'BBB+'. The Outlook for both companies is Stable.

The rating affirmation reflects Fitch's view that the political and regulatory framework in Hawaii, while adverse to the proposed merger with NextEra, will remain ultimately supportive of HECO's credit profile as the utility faces rising penetration of distributed generation and a capital intensive fleet modernization plan. Fitch will closely monitor the outcomes of the on going and planned regulatory filings that include HECO's Power Supply Improvement Plan (PSIP), approval for the 60 MW Hamakua Energy Partners plant purchase and the proposed rate cases to be filed by HECO utilities in 2016.

Fitch acknowledges that meeting the 100% renewable target by 2045 could be a daunting task for HECO, without NextEra's capital and technological support. However, it is still too early to determine what the fleet transformation plan would look like; what kind of capital investments will be required; and what the rate impact on customers would entail. The rapidly declining cost of renewables and of battery storage and the headroom provided by the decline in oil prices are currently working in HECO's favor. Fitch believes HECO is well positioned to meet the 30% renewable target by 2020. Fitch expects HECO's credit metrics to remain strong for the ratings in 2016 - 2018, providing room for a ramp up in capex as the utility prepares to meet 100% of its generation needs from renewable resources by 2045. Fitch believes a supportive regulatory environment could enable HEI to fund the future elevated capital investments in a credit supportive manner.

HEI's ratings are supported, in turn, by the credit profile of its subsidiaries: HECO and American Savings Bank FBS (ASB). HEI plans to retain ASB, as the spin-off of the banking subsidiary was conditional upon consummation of the merger agreement with NEE.

KEY RATING DRIVERS FOR HECO

High Penetration of Distributed Generation: Thirteen percent of HECO's total customers had rooftop solar PV systems at year-end 2015 for a total of 487 MW of capacity. The rapid adoption of rooftop solar in Hawaii was fuelled by a combination of high electricity prices, abundant solar resources and government financial incentives. Combined with energy efficiency initiatives, this resulted in a 6% decline in electric demand during 2011 - 2015. HPUC authorized revenue decoupling- and cost-of-service recovery mechanisms (CSRM) help to reduce the impact of sales variations on earnings. While revenue decoupling protects margins, declining sales further pressure unit costs and render investments to upgrade the electric grid more challenging over the long term. Fitch expects the reduction in government financial incentives for renewable generation combined with a higher minimum monthly bill, the introduction of time-of-use rates design, and a reduction in credit for excess electricity generated to moderate the growth of rooftop solar systems over the medium term.

Aggressive Renewable Targets: The state of Hawaii has set aggressive renewable portfolio standards (RPS) with targets culminating to 100% by 2045. HECO is well placed to achieve the 30% renewable target by 2020 with renewables sources (including distributive generation) meeting 23% of energy needs in 2015. Nonetheless, meeting the 100% renewable target by 2045 will require significant investments to modernize the electric infrastructure throughout the service area as well as presenting execution and technological risks. The PSIP and ability to petition the HPUC on a case-by-case basis for rate base additions exceeding the CSRM will moderate the stress on the capital structure but could pressure already elevated electric rates.

Atypical Electricity Market Structure: HECO operates in isolated island markets with separate power grids, which result in a higher operating cost structure and necessary investment in redundant infrastructure. Electricity generation remains predominantly fuel oil based, resulting in high power prices as imported fuel oil in Hawaii is typically 25% above mainland pricing benchmarks. While HECO's retail electricity rates at approximately $0.23 per kWh at present have benefited from a sharp drop in oil prices since last year, these still remain about 2x the national average.

Progressive Regulatory Framework: Fitch views the regulatory construct in Hawaii as supportive of HECO's credit profile, notwithstanding the prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful review process of the proposed merger. Many progressive regulatory mechanisms partly offset the below-average authorized return on equity (ROE). In addition to revenue decoupling, HECO benefits from forward test years, fuel adjustment and purchase power adjustment clauses, as well as surcharge mechanism to facilitate the recovery of renewable energy infrastructure investments. Nonetheless, earned ROE at HECO's main operating subsidiary was 7.85% for the last-12-months (LTM) at March 31, 2016, compared to an authorized ROE of 10%.

Strong Credit Metrics: HECO's credit measures compare favourably to Fitch's target credit metrics for 'BBB+' integrated electric utilities, including adjusted debt to EBITDAR and FFO-adjusted leverage of 3.0x at March 31, 2016. Fitch expects adjusted debt to EBITDAR and FFO adjusted leverage to remain relatively stable over the forecast period. This reflects expectations of parental support to retain the existing 58% equity capital structure and adequate and timely recovery of proposed capital investments.

KEY RATING DRIVERS FOR HEI

Ratings Supported by Solid Subsidiaries: The ratings for HEI are supported by the strong credit profile of HECO and ASB, the third largest bank in Hawaii with about $6 billion in assets. HECO has historically represented about 70% - 75% of net income and upstream dividends with ASB accounting for the remainder. Both subsidiaries exhibit relatively stable cash flow generation and conservative capital structure commensurate with a 'BBB' category credit profile.

Healthy Hawaiian Economy: The Hawaiian economy is healthy with state GDP growth expected to exceed 3% in 2016, compared with 4.0% growth in 2015, supported by relatively stable housing market and a modest deceleration in tourism expected in 2016, after a strong 2015. Unemployment rate continues to decline and remains well below the national average at 3.1% (seasonally adjusted) at March 31, 2016.

Consistent Bank Performance: ASB exhibits a strong financial profile weighed against its relatively small size and market concentration. ASB is the third largest bank in Hawaii, a highly concentrated but stable banking market. At March 31, 2016, ASB was well capitalized with core and Tier 1 risk-based capital ratios of 8.7% and 12.0% respectively, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC). Its operations are highly profitable with a solid net interest margin of 3.62% and asset quality was good with nonperforming assets of only 1.03% for the 12 months ended March 31, 2016.

KEY ASSUMPTIONS

Fitch's key assumptions within its rating case for the issuer include:

--Constructive outcomes in the rate cases to be filed by HECO's three utilities over 2016 - 2018 with ROE maintained at current authorized levels. Fitch's financial forecasts reflect a structural drag of about 200 bps on earned ROE over the forecast period;

--HECO capex of about $450 million in 2016, $480 million in 2017 and $500 million in 2018;

--HECO capital structure of about 58% equity-to-capital, with debt issuances and equity contributions as needed;

--ASB ownership maintained over the forecast period with stable operating performance and dividend payout ratio of 70%;

-- $90 million termination fee from NEE, plus $5 million for reimbursement of expenses, used to reduce HEI borrowings;

--Debt maturities at HEI refinanced, increase in HEI debt, dividend and/or equity contribution in 2016-2018 as needed to maintain current stable capital structure.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

Positive: An upgrade of HECO is considered unlikely over the next 12 - 18 months, given the uncertain path to meeting the aggressive RPS program and the potential impact of the large capex program on the credit metrics.

Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action include:

--An inability to earn an adequate and timely recovery on invested capital, including adverse outcomes to pending requests with the HPUC and planned GRCs in 2016 - 2017;

--Accelerating competitive inroads by distributed generation and energy efficiency;

--FFO adjusted leverage greater than 5.0x on a sustainable basis.

HEI:

Positive: An upgrade of HEI is considered unlikely over the next 12 - 18 months, as it would be predicated upon an upgrade of HECO's IDR.

Negative: Future developments that may, individually or collectively, lead to negative rating action include:

--Change in financial strategy that disproportionately relies on debt funding;

--Downgrade in HECO's IDR driven by material deterioration in regulatory environment.

LIQUIDITY

HEI and HECO have ample liquidity, with modest cash on hand and adequate availability under revolving credit facilities totalling $350 million at March 31, 2016. Post quarter-end, the liquidity position was bolstered by the receipt of the $90 million break-up fee and up to $5 million for reimbursement of merger-related expenses from NextEra and the release of $54 million held in reserve to pay a special dividend conditional upon the now terminated merger agreement.

Debt maturities are modest over the rating horizon with HEI having entered into a $75 million term loan (maturing in March 2018) to refinance an equal amount of senior notes maturing in March 2016.

HEI has access to a $150 million syndicated revolving credit facility (maturing on April 2019), which also serves as backstop for its commercial paper program. Under the credit agreement, HEI must maintain a ratio of funded debt to total capitalization (on a non-consolidated basis) of 50% of less. This ratio stood at 17% at first-quarter end 2016.

HECO maintains minimum cash on hand, as is typical for a regulated utility, and had $187 million available under its $200 million syndicated revolving credit facility (also maturing in April 2019) at March 31, 2016. HECO's credit facility serves as a backstop for its $200 million commercial paper program. HECO's credit facility has one financial covenant requiring consolidated (for HECO and its subsidiaries) funded debt to capitalization ratio not to exceed 65%. HECO traditionally maintains debt-to-capital ratio of about 42%, as per its regulatory capital requirement. HECO serves as a guarantor for notes and bonds issued by Maui Electric Company and Hawaii Electric Light Company.

FULL LIST OF RATING ACTIONS

Fitch has affirmed the following ratings with a Stable Outlook:

HEI

--Long-Term IDR at 'BBB';

--Senior unsecured debt and credit facility at 'BBB';

--Short-Term IDR at 'F3';

--Commercial Paper at 'F3'.

HECO

--Long-Term IDR at 'BBB+';

--Senior unsecured debt and credit facility at 'A-';

--Subordinated debt at 'BBB';

--Short-Term IDR at 'F2';

--Commercial Paper at 'F2'.

Date of Relevant Rating Committee: July 20, 2016

There were no financial statement adjustments made that were material to the rating rationale outlined above.

Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com.

Applicable Criteria

Corporate Rating Methodology - Including Short-Term Ratings and Parent and Subsidiary Linkage (pub. 17 Aug 2015)

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=869362

Additional Disclosures

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https://www.fitchratings.com/gws/en/disclosure/solicitation?pr_id=1009198

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Source: Business Wire (July 20, 2016 - 4:54 PM EDT)

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