Moody’s Investors Service has cut its ratings on US food group HJ Heinz Co. The credit ratings and risk analysis specialist said it had reviewed the rating because of Heinz’s aggressive restructuring programme which will include raising its dividend and buying back shares.
Moody‘s cut Heinz’s senior unsecured debt by one level from Baa 1 to Baa 2. It also gave the company a negative outlook which it said reflected “the uncertain outcome of ongoing challenges to the current management team being mounted by Nelson Peltz’s Trian Group, which could result in more aggressive financial policy, greater risk in the execution of its operating strategy, and changes in management direction”.
Moody’s said that it had also downgraded Heinz because of weak credit metrics for the Baa category that are likely to deteriorate further because of higher debt levels. It also said there was a risk that there would be greater short-term shareholder focus at the expense of bondholders with the new business plan prompted by pressure from dissident investor Nelson Peltz.
The Heinz board announced earlier this summer that it would raise its dividend to 16.7%, and begin a US$1bn share repurchase programme to be conducted over the next two years.
“This is not unexpected, but Heinz continues to maintain a strong balance sheet as the company executes our plan to enhance shareholder value,” said Heinz spokesman Michael Mullen.