TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Vancouver-based Teck Resources may find itself sitting a lot more comfortably than was the case six months or so, but CEO Don Lindsay made it clear on Thursday that he won't be happy until the company's term loan is paid down and it once again merits investment-grade ratings.
One year ago, Teck borrowed $9,8-billion to buy Fording Canadian Coal Trust, and spent the next 12 months scrambling to free up cash after debt markets turned sour late in 2008.
By the time the firm completes the sales announced already, it will have raised $1,6-billion from the divestment of 'noncore' assets.
By April this year, the firm was also able to renegotiate payment terms and schedules with its lenders and raised some C$1,7-billion by selling a stake in itself to Chinese State-owned sovereign wealth fund China Investment Corp.
The company has paid off the $5,81-billion bridge debt that it took on for the Fording transaction, and has cut the $4-billion term loan to just $2,7-billion.
This will be further reduced to about $1,1-billion, after the asset sales close later this year and in 2010.
Going forward, Lindsay told investors that he does not plan to sell any more assets, and may even consider acquisitions.
“But for right now, our focus remains [on] repaying the term loan and getting back to investment grade,” he asserted.
This month, the company also amended some provisions of the term loan, to allow for nonscheduled payments.
The firm now expects to reduce its scheduled term loan payments in 2010 and 2011 from about $1,1-billion to just $600-million in each year.
The company can also accelerate payments from cash flow, especially if commodity prices remain at current levels, Lindsay said.
Teck is targeting a debt to capitalisation ratio of 25% to 30% and debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation ratio of 2,5 times.
Although the final decision is up to the ratings agencies, the improved credit metrics will hopefully accelerate meeting agency guidelines for an investment-grade credit rating, Lindsay said.
By the end of the third quarter, Teck had improved its debt to net-debt-plus-equity ratio to 34%, compared with a 52% ratio at December 31, 2008.
The company has not ruled out selling a minority stake in its coal business, but is not under any pressure to seek a buyer, Lindsay emphasised.
A deal will only be considered with a “good partner”, offering “a really good price”.