Moody's Investors Service has placed the Baa2 long-term credit rating of Houston Industries Inc. (HII), parent company of Houston Lighting & Power (HL&P), under review for possible upgrade. The main catalyst is HII's January agreement to sell its cable television assets valued at $2.24 billion in exchange for cash and securities to Time Warner Inc. Another factor is HL&P recent settlement with the city of Houston in its rate proceeding. Although it includes a $367-million annual rate reduction, Moody's says the settlement will have "minimal impact" on the utility's credit rating.
Moody's Investors Service
How risky are utility investments today? Regulators have always faced this question when setting the return component of rates under traditional rate base/rate of return regulation. With major industry restructuring looming, risk issues have become proportionately more important and complex. California regulators, for example, have increased the return for the state's electric utilities to account for investor worries over the pace of restructuring in the "Blue Book" proceeding.
Citing credit uncertainties stemming from impending deregulation, Moody's Investors Service has posted negative ratings outlooks for the U.S. electric, telecommunications, and natural gas industries (with the exception of the pipeline segment). Moody's acknowledges, however, that the impact of deregulation will depend on market maturity, relative cost structure, degree of integration, and regulatory flexibility.
Citizens Utilities Co. is continuing its aggressive expansion into the telecommunications business with an agreement to buy $292 million of telephone and cable television assets from Alltel Corp. However, the deal places the company's credit rating under increasing pressure.
Citizens will buy 109,000 telephone access lines in eight states, and acquire operations serving 7,000 cable television customers in four states. Alltel is a telecommunications and information services company based in Little Rock, AK.