New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo's proposed buyout of the Long Island Lighting Co. will not affect the state's general obligation rating. but it will have implications for the debt of two state power authorities. officials at the major credit rating agencies say.
Still. Wall Street bankers and credit analysts said they are skeptical that the proposed public buyout of Lilco. announced last week by Cuomo. will ever take place. particularly if the governor is not re-elected.
The proposal involves the sale of $9 billion of revenue bonds. and state Republican lawmakers have criticized the idea. Even state Comptroller H. Cart McCall. Cuomo's Democratic running mate. said he has questions about the proposed buyout.
Catherine Fleischmann. a vice president at Moodys' Investors Service. said the buyout "would have implications for the power authorities." but not the state's GO rating. Moody's rates the state's GO bonds an A.
At Fitch Investors Service, executive managing director Richard Raphael also said the buyout. would not affect holders of state debt. "We don't see a direct impact on the state's general credit." Raphael said. Fitch rates state GOs A-plus.
Officials from Standard & Poor's Corp., which rates state debt A-minus, could not be reached for comment.
At the moment. Prudential Securities Inc.. the financial adviser for the proposal. is discussing how it would structure a sale of revenue bonds for the buyout. Under the plan, a state bond agency. the Long Island Power Authority, will issue the debt. The New York Power Authority would operate the utility.
Officials at Prudential's merger and acquisition department, who are working on the deal. said that debt service on the bonds would be paid off with utility-generated revenues. not state tax revenues.
The New York Power Authority has $3.9 billion of tax-exempt debt outstanding. The Long Island authority has no debt outstanding,
In a press release, state Sen. Joseph L. Bruno. R-Brunswick, criticized the plan as "a thinly veiled attempt to buy votes on Long Island three weeks befOre the election." The state would have to assume billions of dollars in debt to subsidize the power buyout, Bruno said.
Several analysts said that Lilco's stock fell yesterday, indicating market skepticism about the savings the deal could produce. Cuomo said the takeover will produce a 10% rate reduction for Lilco customers. Lilco serves the Long Island, N.Y., counties of Nassau and Suffolk.
"When I looked at the numbers, I didn't feel there was any great savings available from a takeover," one analyst said.
Analysts also expressed concern about Lilco's own debt. As of December 1993, Lilco had $817 million of tax-exempt debt outstanding and $2.9 billion of debentures outstanding. In addition, the company has outstanding $713 million in preferred stock and $1.8 billion of mortgage bonds.
"The governor's plan seems to envision saving money by refinancing Lilco's debt, but it is not specific about retirement of the debt," a corporate analyst said.
The transaction, if it occurs, would emerge as a boon for municipal market houses. With issuance down, the deal will inject $9 billion into the market.
Currently, the state is asking Wall Street investment bankers for help on the issue. But credit analysts say such a large sum of debt could pose problems even for a sophisticated state like New York. Many analysts, for example, wonder if the state will issue bonds all at once, or conduct a series of transactions.
"More than most, this is a deal that will succeed or fail in the details," said Brad Gewehr, vice president and supervisor of the Northeast regional ratings group at Moody's Investors Service. "How is the deal structured? How is the acquisition price to be raised? How can they extract savings from changing control? What will this do to Long Island's tax base?"
Stephen Fedun, vice president in the global power group at Fitch Investors Service, Said details on an acquisition were "insufficient." "The devil iS in the details," Fedun added. "Whether [the Long Island Power Authority] is interested in all of or part of Lilco is still a question to be answered."