Forte Oil Liquidity Position Relatively Weak—GCR
By Dipo Olowookere
A local credit rating agency, Global Credit Ratings (GCR), has described the liquidity position of an indigenous energy firm, Forte Oil Plc, as “relatively weak.”
In a statement issued by the rating company, the short term rating of Forte Oil was downgraded to A2(NG), with the outlook accorded as stable.
GCR explained that the weak liquidity as well as the company’s low debt service coverage and significant budget underperformance contributed to the one-notch downgrade of the short-term rating.
However, a long term national scale ratings were assigned to Forte Oil at A-(NG), with its issue rating of A-(NG) concurrently affirmed and the outlook accorded as stable.
It was explained that the ratings factor Forte Oil’s strong market presence in the Nigerian downstream oil industry as the firm owns significant assets across the value chain with an extensive distribution and retail network, supported by long-term relationships with suppliers, and an experienced management team.
In the first half of 2019, Forte Oil successfully divested from its power business and other subsidiaries and given the persistent cash flow challenges, the subsidiaries were a substantial drain on the core business and were partly responsible for the elevated gearing.
GCR said excluding the power business, gross debt from continuing operations fell to N18.7 billion in FY18 (FY17: N34.8 billion). This translated into a much lower net debt to EBITDA of 423 percent at FY18, but still well above forecasts.
The metrics deteriorated further to 662 percent in 5M FY19. Without the power business working capital pressure is also expected to ease, which will contribute to lower gearing.
In addition, Forte Oil plans to utilise proceeds from the sale to reduce debt. GCR said the assigned ratings are thus premised on a sustained reduction in earnings based gearing to below 70 percent over the medium term and reach a net ungeared position by FY21.
GCR stated in the released that the high short-term maturities (70 percent of total debt), are reflective of the short-term nature of fuel inventories, but cash holdings are very low, offering no buffer against debt maturities.
“Some comfort is taken from Forte Oil’s strong banking relationships, and the N13 billion unutilised credit facilities.
“The imminent maturity of the federal government’s irrevocable unconditional promissory note should also somewhat bolster liquidity,” the rating agency said.
It noted that excluding the power business (28 percent of revenue in FY17), Forte Oil still demonstrates strong revenue generating capacity, underpinned by the ongoing retail expansion and aggressive marketing initiatives.
However, the remaining business reports an inherently lower profit margin, due to the high cost environment, amid tight regulation of premium motor spirit (PMS) (70 percent of total revenue).
“This, coupled with high finance costs, saw net interest coverage narrow to a low 1.6x in FY18 (FY17: 3.1x), which shrank further to 0.5x in 5M FY19,” the statement obtained by Business Post said.
In the medium to long term, Forte Oil plans to strengthen its margins through increased fuel volumes and a focus on higher margin lubes and greases.
GCR stressed that a rating uplift is dependent on demonstrated reduction in debt and a significant ramping up of volumes and margins (in line with targets).
“Conversely, persistently high gearing metrics post the sale, as well as poor interest coverage, could negatively impact the rating,” it noted.