Fitch downgrades Sunshine Holdings to ‘A-(lka)’ | Sunday Observer

Fitch downgrades Sunshine Holdings to ‘A-(lka)’

Fitch Ratings has downgraded Sri Lanka-based Sunshine Holdings PLC’s National Long-Term Rating to ‘A-(lka)’ from ‘A(lka)’. The Outlook is Stable.

The downgrade reflects Fitch’s expectations that Sunshine’s net leverage - defined as lease-adjusted debt net of cash/operating EBITDAR, including proportionate consolidation of Estate Management Services (Private) Limited (EMSPL), the holding company for the agriculture and consumer goods segments - will remain higher than the level commensurate with a higher rating over the next three years.

The higher leverage is due to the substantial increase in debt following Sunshine’s acquisition of an additional stake in EMSPL from Tata Global Beverages for Rs. 2.9 billion on December 28, 2017.

The acquisition will increase Sunshine’s ownership of EMSPL to 60.0%, from 33.2%, and improve the fungibility of group cash flow. We expect operating cash flow from the group’s palm-oil segment, a part of EMSPL, to improve in the medium-term, but this is unlikely to be sufficient to offset the higher debt.

Key rating drivers

Higher Financial Risk: Sunshine’s financial profile has weakened, as the acquisition has added LKR2.7 billion of additional debt. Fitch expects net leverage to increase to 2.5x in the financial year ending March 2018 (FY18), then modestly recover to around 2.3x through FY21, buoyed by a rising EBITDA contribution from the palm-oil business. We also believe Sunshine’s structural subordination risk is heightened, as the holding company borrowed Rs.1.4 billion for the share purchase, while its cash flow is dependent on dividend payments from subsidiaries.

However, this is mitigated by Sunshine’s increased control of EMSPL and better group fungibility of operating cash flow.

Increasing cash flow volatility: The EMSPL acquisition increases Sunshine’s exposure to the agriculture business, which generates more volatile cash flow relative to Sunshine’s comparatively defensive healthcare segment. We also believe that the long-term viability of Sunshine’s tea-plantation segment is inhibited by unstable export demand, lower productivity and an escalating cost structure.

However, this is mitigated by the rising cash flow contribution from the company’s profitable palm-oil business, which contributed 71% of agri-segment EBITDA in FY17.

Palm oil supports profitability: We expect the palm-oil segment to be a key contributor to higher operating cash flow in the medium term, based on our forecast for global palm-oil prices to average USD665/tonne in 2018 and USD675/tonne from 2019.

Sunshine is Sri Lanka’s largest palm-oil producer, accounting for more than half of domestic output, and is well-positioned to benefit from rising local demand, increased near-term capacity and the government’s protectionist import tariffs. Palm oil is the largest contributor to Sunshine’s profitability, accounting for 36% of group proportionate EBITDA in FY17 (FY16: 24%).

The government cut import taxes on edible oil by around 20% in November 2017 to make up for lower domestic supply volume due to adverse weather conditions.

This is likely to cause a slight short-term dip in Sunshine’s palm-oil margins, but we expect margins to recover in the medium-term as taxes revert to historical levels with improvements in supply.

Margin pressure in branded tea: The EBITDA margin of Sunshine’s branded-tea segment weakened by 660bp to 8.9% in FY17, due to higher tea prices in the Colombo Tea Auction over the previous 12-14 months. Intense price competition, particularly in the lower -end of the market, also limits Sunshine’s ability to fully pass on cost increases to customers. Nevertheless, we expect tea costs to moderate with easing supply-side pressure, which should benefit the segment’s margin.

Sunshine’s strategy to tap the higher-growth hotel, restaurant and catering industries should also support the segment’s top-line and profitability growth.

Long-term benefits from investments: Fitch expects capacity expansion in Sunshine’s power and dairy segments to stabilise cash flow in the long term by reducing the contribution share from the volatile tea and palm-oil businesses.

We estimate the EBITDA contribution from the power and dairy segments to exceed Rs. 190 million by FYE19, once the increased capacity goes into operation.