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11:30
FITCH: NAFTOGAZ'S RATING DOWNGRADED TO 'CC'

Kyiv, July 31 (Interfax-Ukraine) - Fitch Ratings on July 30, 2009, downgraded Ukraine-based OJSC Naftogaz's Long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default ratings (IDRs) to 'CC' from 'B-' respectively.

According to a Fitch statement, both ratings remain on Rating Watch Negative (RWN).

Fitch simultaneously downgraded the senior unsecured rating on Naftogaz's $500 million eurobond to 'CC' from 'B' and maintained it on RWN. The Recovery Rating (RR) on the eurobond is 'RR4'.

"The rating action reflects the possibility of a coercive debt exchange and the absence of a stable funding plan for [the company's] near-term financial obligations, which makes a default of some kind probable," said Anton Krawchenko, the associate director in Fitch's Energy, Utility and Regulations team.

The Ukrainian government published a resolution on July 22, 2009 authorizing Naftogaz to restructure its foreign currency-denominated debt. Neither the government nor Naftogaz have committed to a debt restructuring; however, Fitch believes such a restructuring is probable. Under Fitch's Coercive Debt Exchange (CDE) criteria, if a CDE is inevitable or imminent, the agency will downgrade Naftogaz's Long-term IDR to 'C'. If a CDE is successfully executed, Fitch would downgrade Naftogaz's Long-term IDR to Restricted Default (RD).

On August 7, 2009, Naftogaz is due to pay Gazprom between $600 million and $700 million for gas consumed in July, and on September 30, 2009 its $500 million eurobond matures. Naftogaz cannot meet these, or other near-term, payment obligations on the basis of internal cash flows and is seeking to secure financial support from the government and third parties. On 28 July 2009, the IMF approved a $3.3 billion tranche under its $16.2 billion Stand-By Arrangement with Ukraine, which is available for budgetary support (including to Naftogaz).

According to the statement, given IMF support and central bank reserves available for emergency budgetary use, Fitch believes Ukraine's government has the financial capacity to support Naftogaz's liabilities if it chooses to do so. However, although Fitch believes Ukraine's support for Naftogaz remains high, reliance on last minute emergency financing arrangements to meet imminent maturities is more compatible with a 'CC' rating.

Naftogaz's senior unsecured rating was previously aligned with Ukraine's sovereign IDR ('B'/Negative) to reflect a guarantee of the company's foreign debt that was written into the country's budget law. However, Fitch's understanding is that the guarantee only applies to missed cash payments by Naftogaz, not a rescheduling of debt. The government's recent resolution authorizing a debt restructuring at Naftogaz, together with pressure on government finances and inadequate internal cash flow to meet financial obligations, suggests a coercive debt exchange is probable. For this reason, Naftogaz's senior unsecured rating has been downgraded to the level of the company's IDR, Fitch said.

Ukraine's energy regulator recently announced that domestic gas prices would begin to move towards international prices, at which level Naftogaz pays for imports, commencing September 1, 2009, with a 20% increase for residential consumers. In the long-term, price increases could significantly improve Naftogaz's business profile. However, Fitch would not consider upgrading Naftogaz's IDR until transparency at the company improves (including timely publication of IFRS [International Financial Reporting Standards] results), cash from operations (i.e., cash after working capital needs) improves substantially and stable funding is in place to comfortably meet near-term maturities and gas payments over the 2009/10 winter season.

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