Capital Guaranty Insurance Co., having made strides toward resolving nagging ownership problems, yesterday earned its first rating from Moody's Investors Service a triple-A.
The company, which already sports an AAA from Standard & Poor's Corp., also said for the first time yesterday that a public stock offering in the next several months is possible. A stock sale would help Capital Guaranty owners who need to divest various portions of their interest in the company.
Moody's said that the company's new emphasis on solving the ongoing ownership questions, perhaps through a stock sale, helped convince the rating agency that Capital Guaranty was worthy of its highest rating. Laura Levenstein, manager of the rating agency's bond insurance unit, said other factors included new capital infusions and a strong claims-paying ability.
Fleet Norstar Financial Group is under pressure from federal regulators to trim its holdings in Capital Guaranty from 36.7% to under 25% to meet guidelines governing the extent to which bank holding companies can own portions of other financial institutions.
United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co., which owns 24.3% of Capital Guaranty, has previously announced that it plans to get out of "non-core" businesses like bond insurance.
As a result, about 50% of Capital Guaranty's ownership is expected to be up for grabs shortly. The company recently abandoned merger negotiations with Capital Markets Assurance Corp. to deal with the problem, and Michael Djordjevich, Capital Guaranty's chairman and chief executive officer, said yesterday that the alternative would now be either holding an initial public offering or finding a different investor.
"They are directly addressing the issue of ownership interest," Levenstein said.
She said previously that the questions about the company's future were a problem for the rating agency. "We had some concerns because it had not been addressed," she said, adding that the uncertainty raised questions about how management would be affected.
But Levenstein said Moody's has recently met with Fleet and USF&G, and now feels comfortable that an initial public offering would not affect the composition of Capital Guaranty's board.
Djordjevich said Capital Guaranty has been in "off and on" negotiations with Moody's for over two years, with the ownership questions one of the major sticking points in the awarding of an Aaa.
He said the company sought a Moody's rating because a rating from both Moody's and Standard & Poor's has now become "a standard in the industry that in previous years was not so pronounced."
Djordjevich said split ratings on deals the company insured had become a problem for the company, in part because several large bond funds now require a Moody's rating.
Connie Lee Insurance Co., which focuses on the education sector, is now the only major municipal insurer without a Moody's rating. Asset Guaranty Reinsurance Co., a division of Enhance Financial Services Group, has a triple-A rating from only Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co. Credit Reinsurance Co., a subsidiary of Capital Reinsurance Corp., has no ratings at all.
In addition to the ownership issue, Moody's also said Capital Guaranty has significantly increased its claims-paying resources with a combination of debt issuance, cash infusions, and new reinsurance arrangements.
Moody's said the company is expected next quarter to privately place $30 million of notes and execute a $25 million excess-of-loss agreement with Hannover Ruckversicherungs-Aktiengesellschaft. The agreement with the German insurance company allows Capital Guaranty to draw up to $25 million from Hannover once the company has incurred claims of $60 million or 500% of net earned premium, whichever is greater, in a given calendar year.
In addition, Capital Guaranty plans to cede approximately $300 million of existing exposure to reinsurers and receive a cash infusion of $10 million from current shareholders.