EthiFinance Ratings reaffirms its BBB+ ratings to the LT corporate and NEU MTN program, its SR1 rating to the NEU CP program

Rating rationale

EthiFinance Ratings reaffirms BBB+ its long-term corporate rating and instrument rating at BBB+ for Bellon S.A. and the company’s €200m NEU MTN instrument. EthiFinance Ratings also reaffirms its SR1 short-term rating on the €500m NEU CP instrument of Bellon S.A.

Credit profile

On the one hand, our rating is buoyed by the large size of the underlying company Sodexo, which generates significant revenues (around €20bn on a consolidated basis per annum over the last few years) and holds leading positions in its markets around the world. We also value the conservative financial policy of the Bellon family, which distributes historically less than 10% of the dividends received from Sodexo, resulting in a very low LTV ratio of 4.5% as of July 12th, 2022.

On the other hand, the rating is constrained by the fact that the holding is not diversified in terms of value and industry. Also, Bellon’s rating is still impacted by the leverage ratios of Sodexo (calculated in proportion to the capital held) – which are improving after two difficult years due to the Covid-19 pandemic impact on profitability (i.e., net debt-to-EBITDA and FFO-to-debt) but which remain rather high given the rating category of Bellon.

Founded in 1966, Sodexo is a France-based provider of food services and facility management services to various end-markets (Education, Corporate Services, Healthcare, Sports & Leisure). The group is one of the leading global companies in its sector and is relatively well-diversified in terms of geographic mix, with an operating presence across 55 countries as of the end of February 2022 (down from 64 due to divestments of some non-core activities).

Through 2021 and into 2022 the group’s performance has recovered well from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, Sodexo’s revenues for the twelve months to end-May 2022 were, at €20.1bn, up by 20% yoy (versus €16.8bn over the previous 12-month period). Each business unit has grown over the period from April 2021 to May 2022. Revenue growth in yoy terms in the period was strongest for the two divisions which were particularly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, namely Business & Administration and Education. This is mainly due to the progressive reopening of corporate and university collective catering following the easing of measures taken to limit the spread of the virus. Sodexo’s global activities have still not returned to their pre-crisis, we forecast €20.4bn in terms of revenue in FY22 versus €22.0bn in FY19. However, assuming that the health situation improves further in the months ahead, and that the Russia-Ukraine conflict and higher inflation do not derail global economic activity, we expect continued revenue growth for Sodexo, especially in North America, which is slightly behind Europe in terms of recovery of its business post-pandemic due to longer restrictions than in Europe.

The lowering of Bellon’s reported net debt (from €300m at end-2020 to €204m at end-2021) is linked to the dividend received in December 2021 (€126m), which enabled Bellon to proceed to the partial repayment of the existing ELS for €100m. Following this repayment, at end-2021 the remainder drawn under the ELS was €50m.

Going forward, excluding a major event (debt-funded acquisitions or adverse macroeconomic developments), we estimate that Sodexo will be able to decrease further its net adjusted leverage ratio with improving profitability as operations normalize, to reach the high-end of its pre-Covid range by August 2024.

Liquidity profile

Bellon’s liquidity score is 3, which is the highest score according to our methodology. Bellon’s score is high despite approaching maturities (ELS matures in April 2023) due to its solid financial profile. Indeed, we expect no issues for Bellon to refinance its existing debts if needed. In addition to that, Bellon owns liquid and valuable assets, i.e., Sodexo shares, the monetization of a small portion of which could largely suffice to finance any eventual cash needed by Bellon without it losing control over Sodexo.

Please note that we do not take into account in our liquidity analysis the undrawn portion (€150m) of the NEU MTN program because it is not committed.

Credit Metrics Expected Evolution (CMEE)

We assess the CMEE to be Positive which reflects the expected recovery of Sodexo’s operating cash-flow and its ability to lower its leverage ratio. Also, we expect the continuation of the decrease of the loan to value of Bellon under the assumption of a stable share price of Sodexo.
Our methodology for short-term ratings is available at:

Bellon S.A.

Bellon S.A. is the animating holding company of Sodexo. As of December 31 2021, Bellon S.A. held 42.8% of the shares of Sodexo and 57.3% of actual voting rights.

EthiFinance

EthiFinance is an innovative European rating, research and advisory group serving sustainable finance and sustainable development. It provides investors, companies and organizations with solutions to the challenges of financing as well as environmental and societal transformation. Created in 2017, EthiFinance is the result of the merger between Spread Research and EthiFinance, French financial and extra-financial rating agencies both founded in 2004. EthiFinance provides its services to a wide range of leading international clients under the brands Spread Research (independent credit research), EthiFinance Ratings (credit rating agency), EthiFinance Analytics (Risk Modelling), and EthiFinance (extra-financial rating and advisory agency).

EthiFinance operates as a credit rating agency registered with and regulated by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) since July 2013, and as an External Credit Assessment Institution (ECAI). Our ratings are recognized by the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA), and can be used for the internal calculation and models of banks and insurance companies. Under the EthiFinance Ratings brand, EthiFinance provides financial analysis, assigns credit ratings for issuers, and provides credit opinions for financial operations (particularly for private debt funding operations or for the purpose of accounting/tax documentation). EthiFinance is one of the rating agencies authorized by the Banque de France to rate NEU CP and NEU MTN programs.

Our full report is available at:
https://www.ethifinance.com/en/ratings

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