by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL
MARC Rating Bhd has assigned a preliminary rating of AAAIS to Amanat Lebuhraya Rakyat Bhd’s (ALR) proposed sukuk programme of up to RM5.5 billion with a stable outlook.
The rating firm stated the rating reflects the strength and proven revenue-generating capacity of ALR’s portfolio of matured highways in the Klang Valley, the healthy finance service capacity under the accommodative sukuk structure and the low capital requirement for the highways with regard to operations and maintenance (O&M).
“The rating is supported by the trust-like structure of ALR under which a no-dividend policy will be incorporated with residual cash flows potentially utilised for earlier-than-projected sukuk redemption.
“The rating is mainly moderated by the risk associated with traffic performance during the sukuk tenure, although the rating agency draws comfort from the historically stable and mature traffic profile of key highways in the portfolio,” it said in a statement yesterday.
ALR will takeover highways such as the Shah Alam Expressway (Kesas), Damansara-Puchong Highway (LDP), The Western Kuala Lumpur Traffic Dispersal Scheme (Sprint) and the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (Smart) from their respective owners such as Gamuda Bhd, MMC Corp Bhd and the Selangor state government.
Kesas, LDP and Sprint have a long operating history of over two decades and serve a well-established commuter base along densely populated areas in the Klang Valley, and collectively account for about 97% of pro forma consolidated revenue in 2021.
Between 2015 and 2019, prior to the onset of disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the three highways recorded a traffic volume peak-to-trough of 11%, which reflected a fairly steady underlying traffic base.
In contrast, Smart exhibited greater peak-to-trough volatility of 26%; however, given its low contribution of around 4% to total revenue, its performance is unlikely to impact ALR’s financial metrics significantly.
MARC Ratings added the annual average daily traffic (AADT) on the four highways combined, which had declined by 29% from the 2019 levels to about 681,745 vehicles during the pandemic years of 2020 to 2021, is on track to return to the pre-pandemic level following the normalisation of economic activity since the fourth quarter of 2021 (4Q21).
The AADT in April 2022 recovered to 93% compared to that during the corresponding month in 2019.
On the whole, the highway portfolio has a 20-year traffic compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7%.
According to MARC Ratings, traffic growth would also be supported by the toll freeze at current rates under the restructured toll concessions following the acquisition of full ownership of the concession companies of Kesas, LDP, Sprint and Smart, from Gamuda (the majority shareholder in the concession companies) and other shareholders.
“The acquisition will be partly funded by the proposed sukuk of RM5.5 billion, of which RM3.4 billion will be paid to the shareholders of the concession companies and RM2 billion will be used to repay existing borrowings of the concession companies.
“The acquisition and restructuring of the toll concessions will relieve the government of its heavy compensation burden,” it noted.
In respect of operational risk, MARC Ratings views this to be low given the relatively straightforward nature of the highways’ O&M and draws comfort that the O&M will be undertaken by the concession companies, supported by the professional senior management team from Gamuda via the Oversight Management Services Co.
It said operating expenditure (opex) of the four concession companies in the last five years has been relatively stable ranging from 17% to 23% of their respective revenue.
MARC Ratings pointed out that cashflow analysis under the base case that assumes traffic growth of 1.7% (CAGR over the 15-year sukuk tenure) reveals a solid average finance service coverage ratio (FSCR) of 7.5 times, with a minimum of 2.4 times.
It added the strong cashflow generation would afford ALR the flexibility to repay the sukuk early in 2033.
In MARC Ratings’ sensitised case that incorporates no traffic growth and higher opex, the average FSCR would stand at 2.7 times with a minimum of 1.3 times.
Additionally, MARC Ratings highlighted that ALR’s liquidity position benefits from the sukuk’s protective structural features, including a complete lockup of operating cash and restrictions on dividends.
While the build-up of cash would allow for early redemption of the sukuk, the excess cash provides a strong buffer to meet exigencies in scenarios of traffic underperformance due to unexpected events.
“If ALR is unable to early redeem the sukuk in 2033, there is still up to four years of cash generation from LDP, Sprint and Smart highways (Kesas’ concession agreement expires in 2034) before the legal maturity of the sukuk,” it noted.