Standard & Poor's Corp. officials say they jumped the gun and should not have released a commentary last month criticizing a planned $699 million lease-backed revenue bond deal between Northwest Airlines and Minnesota authorities.
The commentary -- originally slated for the Nov. 25 edition of Credit Week Municipal and describing the deal as essentially a "corporate junk bond" offering -- was quoted in a Nov. 25 story in The Bond Buyer based on an advance copy provided to the newspaper.
The commentary never actually ran in CreditWeek Municipal, however. Standard & Poor's officials pulled it at the last minute for editorial revisions without notifying the newspaper.
"We made a mistake, and we did apologize to Minnesota officials for this coming out prematurely," said Todd Whitestone, an agency managing director. "The reason we pulled it was we didn't have all the information about the deal. They had given us a broad overview" but not all the details, he said.
The error caused some heartburn for Mr. Whitestone and other agency officials at a hearing of the Minnesota Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy on the issue earlier this month.
According to a local newspaper account, under sharp questioning from state Sen. Gene Merriam, they "backpedaled" from a statement in the commentary that Northwest is "vulnerable to bankruptcy" and said the release had not been approved through proper channels.
The agency officials did not retract their warning, however, that the deal, as outlined, could result in a downgrading of the Minneapolis Metropolitan Airports Commission's AAA-rated bonds.
The commission is planning to provide its general obligation pledge on up to $270 million of the lease-backed bonds, which would be paid primarily with maintenance facility rental payments from the financially strapped airline.