Top Debt & Credit Rating Agency Actions (UTX, GR, GM, LSTZA, LSTZB, LCAPA, LCAPB, BRK-A, BRK-B, CAG, OWW, WWWW, CMI)

Today’s ratings actions are led-off by Moody’s affirmation of its ‘A2’ senior unsecured and ‘Prime-1’ short-term ratings on United Technologies Corp. (NYSE: UTX). The affirmation follows United’s announced acquisition of Goodrich Corp. (NYSE: GR) for $18.4 billion in cash. Moody’s noted the complementary nature of the deal and United’s historically strong “fiscal conservatism” as support for the ratings affirmation. Moody’s also noted that it was placing Goodrich’s ‘Baa2’ senior unsecured rating under review for a possible upgrade. Standard & Poor’s also put Goodrich on CreditWatch with positive implications.

Other rating actions were announced for General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), Liberty Media LLC, Lubrizol Corp., now wholly-owned by Berkshire-Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A; BRK-B), ConAgra Foods Inc. (NYSE: CAG), Orbitz Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: OWW), Group Inc. (NASDAQ: WWWW), and Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI)

General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) is having its ‘Ba2’ corporate family rating and its ‘Baa3’ secured credit facility ratings reviewed for possible upgrade at Moody’s. The company’s new union contract and its improved operating and financial performance are the drivers of the review. Global economic uncertainty and the cyclic nature of the automaking business are the agency’s biggest concern. Also today, S&P assigned ‘AAA’ ratings to $500 million in asset-backed notes for Ally Bank. The funds are primarily intended to finance purchases of new cars from GM and Chrysler.

Liberty Media LLC and its Liberty Starz Group (NASDAQ: LSTZA; LSTZB) and Liberty Capital Group (NASDAQ: LCAPA; LCAPB) have received a ratings downgrade from Moody’s on senior unsecured bonds from ‘B1’ to ‘B3’ and the probability of default rating was downgraded from ‘Ba3’ to ‘B1’. The downgrades follow a court ruling that allows Liberty Media to split-off certain assets. The agency noted that 18% of Liberty Media’s revenues and 37% its enterprise value are being removed, which “disproportionately and negatively affect Liberty Media’s bondholders.”

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A; BRK-B) subsidiary Lubrizol Corp. received a ratings upgrade from Moody’s following its acquistion by Warren Buffett’s company. The agency raised Lubrizol’s debt ratings from ‘Baa1’ to ‘Aa2’ with a stable outlook. There’s no substitute for having access to really deep pockets, or as Moody’s says, Berkshire-Hathaway “now guarantees Lubrizol’s public debt.”

ConAgra Foods Inc. (NYSE: CAG) has had its ‘BBB’ corporate credit and its ‘A-2’ short-term and commercial paper rating, among others, re-affirmed by S&P following ConAgra’s decision to give up its attempts to acquire Ralcorp Holdings Inc. (NYSE: RAH). All the company’s ratings have been removed from CreditWatch and the ratings outlook has been declared stable.

Orbitz Worldwide Inc. (NYSE: OWW) has had its ‘B’ corporate credit rating put on CreditWatch with negative implications by S&P. The agency downgraded debt for Travelport Holdings Ltd. yesterday, which together with The Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX) owns 55% of Orbitz. Group Inc. (NASDAQ: WWWW) received a preliminary rating of ‘B’ with a stable outlook from S&P on its corporate credit.

Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) received a corporate credit upgrade from ‘BBB+’ to ‘A’ from S&P. Cummins is an engine and parts maker and has been performing above expectations for the past three quarters. Analysts have raised EPS estimates for the current quarter by 10%.

Paul Ausick