Credit FAQ: The Global Business Services Sector Is Poised For Growth – About Your Online Magazine


S&P Global Ratings believes that the business and consumer services sector worldwide is poised to grow this year, after some turmoil in 2020 as a result of shocks related to COVID-19 and the ensuing global economic recession. In the past 12 months, we have carried out negative rating actions in more than a third of the companies we have evaluated globally in this sector. Last year’s downgrades were mainly limited to one notch and involved issuers with high revenue exposure to cyclical sectors such as travel, hospitality, leisure and oil and gas. Poor economic conditions also led to an increase in the sector’s default rate, although measures such as exemptions from agreements and capital infusions kept the rate limited. We believe that the pace of further downgrades will continue to slow in the next 12 months, due to the high number of negative actions already taken last year, the progression of vaccine launches and the improvement in global economic conditions. However, uncertainty about the evolution of the pandemic and its economic effects continues to moderate our expectations and reflects the relatively high number of negative prospects that remain across the portfolio. In this commentary, S&P Global Ratings addresses the most frequently asked questions about our ratings in the global business services sector since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the industry’s likely path to recovery in 2021 and beyond.

common questions

How serious was the impact of COVID-19’s ratings on global business and the consumer services sector, and how will the pandemic affect credit quality in 2021?

Overall, the credit quality of the global portfolio has weakened somewhat since the beginning of the pandemic. We downgraded about a fifth of our publicly rated issuers by at least one notch since March 2020. However, multinotch downgrades have affected only a handful of issuers (see graph 2), mainly with exposure to cyclical sectors. The rating actions have been concentrated in our speculative grade universe (issuer credit ratings of ‘BB +’ and below), and our weaker issuers (rated ‘B-‘ and below) have increased to approximately 40% of the portfolio , 32% in March 2020. Issuers rated ‘CCC +’ or lower, which are normally vulnerable to non-payment, have doubled and now represent 11% of the portfolio. Our investment-grade issuers have remained more robust, with few rating changes, and we expect this trend to continue.

The risks are still negative in 2021 due to a high degree of uncertainty about the evolution of the pandemic – such as new variants of the virus – and related economic effects. Very few (about 3% of the portfolio) issuers currently have a positive outlook or are on CreditWatch with positive implications, compared to more than a quarter of the portfolio that have a negative outlook or are on CreditWatch with negative implications. However, we believe that the pace of further reductions will continue to slow dramatically over the next 12 months, as the vaccine launch progresses and global economic conditions improve.

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Which subsectors were most affected by COVID-19 and which ones will return to appear more quickly in 2021?

We saw a sharp and immediate drop in profits for most issuers across the global business services portfolio after the start of the pandemic. However, the impact varied substantially due to the diversity of service offerings, industries, end markets and geographies in the sector. Issuers took a series of measures to neutralize the impact of COVID-19 and the weakening economy and to strengthen their liquidity positions. This includes better working capital management, hiring freezes, wage cuts, rent renegotiations and the use of government initiatives, such as substantial personnel leave schemes. Companies have also cut capital expenditures, but usually only moderately, and companies with a lower rating have drastically cut mergers and acquisitions (although companies with a higher rating have remained more active).

Despite these efforts by companies in the sector, EBITDA margins decreased significantly in the following subsectors: food, day care and education services, human resources and employment services, installation and maintenance of purchasing and supply chain facilities and services. As a result, we carried out several classification actions between March 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021 (see graph 3).

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Meals.
With most offices, schools and sports facilities temporarily closed for several months due to blockages and strict social disengagement measures and canceled events, on-site food service providers were one of the subsectors most affected by COVID-19. Although some important end markets, such as hospitals, remain open, this has been insufficient to offset the overall sharp drop in revenue and EBITDA in end markets subject to temporary closings. More than half of our global catering portfolio still has ratings with negative prospects. Overall, we estimate that organic revenues decreased between 30% and 70% in the second quarter of the 2020 calendar year, with sharp declines in EBITDA in the same period. This is despite catering companies normally benefiting from a highly variable cost base (around 60% of total operating expenses are expenses for food and personnel), contractual flexibility with suppliers (with some contract structures containing flat rates) and generous measures government support in Europe (mainly employee leave schemes). In most cases, we changed our view of a quick recovery of credit measures after the reopening of facilities to a phased, staggered return to 2019 revenue and EBITDA levels. Work at home initiatives are also hampering performance, and we anticipate a recovery with capacity and activity back to pre-pandemic levels in late 2022, subject to improved blocking conditions.

Child care and education services.
Education providers who could adapt quickly to remote learning or are in attractive end markets, such as healthcare, fared better than our out-of-home providers who depended on open facilities. For example, the operational performance of the technology-based assessment, curriculum and educational solutions provider, based in the United States, Ascend Learning LLC was better than expected, driven by strong demand in its clinical and fitness health and wellness segments. -be.

Daycare operators have been heavily affected by COVID-19 shutdowns, restrictions on social distance and high unemployment rates. This includes Bright Horizons Family Solutions LLC, KUEHG Corp., Learning Care Group (US) No. 2 Inc., Eagle Midco Ltd. (Busy Bees) and Babar Bidco SAS. We found that issuers with part of the revenue derived from multi-year contractual agreements with companies (which pay a fixed annual fee) were more resilient, but represent a minority of our classified portfolio. Revenue typically weakened by 25% -30% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Child care providers generally have relatively fixed cost bases. For example, we understand that about 90% of the expenses of Babar BidCo, based in France, are fixed, although the revenue is also more resilient than that of peers, as it operates in highly subsidized countries. Many companies struggled to maintain adequate liquidity positions and were forced to negotiate with landlords to postpone rent payments, seek amendments to agreements and increase debt. These issuers, all of which were speculative in our assessed portfolio, were generally highly leveraged before the pandemic. However, most centers were reopened in the fourth quarter of 2020, and we expect all centers to reopen in mid-2021. Usage rates are improving each quarter with higher levels of government support, better levels of vaccination and restrictions reduced, although we note that COVID-19 rates have increased again in many European countries in recent weeks and could reverse this trend somewhat.

The long-term risks for this sector remain high, in our opinion. As flexible working arrangements become more and more common, volumes may weaken due to changing consumer preferences and increased use of childcare services in residential areas rather than corporate zones.

Human resources and employment services.
These providers are particularly sensitive to reductions in economic activity and employment levels. In all of our classified recruitment agencies, we have generally seen a sharp reduction in temporary staffing needs and hiring freezes in all sectors, from financial services hires to life sciences and health teams – with the latter falling in the first half of 2020 as an elective, surgeries were postponed. This led to double-digit declines in revenue and lower EBITDA in the first half of 2020.

Despite the recovery in turnover in permanent and temporary positions, we expect a slow recovery. For example, for the United States-based global workforce solutions provider, ManpowerGroup Inc. and Switzerland-based Adecco Group AG, we do not anticipate a recovery in revenue to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. However, the impact of the ratings was limited due to the modest initial leverage adjustment, healthy liquidity positions and solid clear space for deals.

Installation and maintenance of facilities.
This subsector includes emitters that provide HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and other technical services. Although some issuers have been resilient, such as Refficiency Holdings LLC, based in the United States, with stronger growth driven by demand related to COVID-19 for air filtration services in mission-critical facilities (such as hospitals), most issuers will continue to bring substantial successes to their main lines this year. For example, for Assemblin, based in Sweden, a provider of heating and electric ventilation services, we expect organic growth from negative to stable in 2021.

Purchasing and supply chain services.
This subsector serves many end markets, with retail, energy and discretionary items most affected by the pandemic. For example, credit metrics have weakened for US-based PSS Industrial Group Corp., a distributor of products supporting the energy sector, as customers saved money and avoided capital investments. Others did better. The UK-based non-food purchasing outsourcing company, Bunzl PLC, exceeded our expectations, with high single-digit revenue growth in 2020. Bunzl saw a high demand for COVID-19-related products, such as personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. More generally, this is a fragmented market and EBITDA margins are generally modest. High fixed costs meant limited room for maneuver for some issuers (eg, United States based contact lens distributor ABB / Con-Cise Optical Group LLC) and struggling exchanges (as for CB Poly Investments, LLC).

Hygiene and facility management services.
While cleaning and laundry facilities management services are largely non-discretionary, the blockages and demands for social distance have affected the sector. We note that coin-operated laundry service providers Spin Holdco Inc. and WASH Multifamily Acquisition Inc., with an exposure to multi-family housing, were not as affected as those with purely commercial exposures. However, the higher vacancy rates caused by the initial flight to the suburbs resulted in medium to high double-digit declines in revenue and EBITDA year on year. More generally, blockages hit the final hospitality market hard, while issuers with final health markets, such as Italy’s Rekeep SpA, which provides sterilization of surgical instruments among other services, performed better than we anticipated.

Our issuers rated in this subsector also include facility management companies, with a range of services ranging from parking management to landscape maintenance and repairs. The business impact among facility management issuers has been mixed. For example, BrightView Landscapes LLC, based in the USA, maintained high revenue retention rates despite COVID-19, highlighting the need for essential maintenance services, although the use of commercial real estate remained low. On the other hand, the German-based parking operator, APCOA Parking Holdings GmbH, faced double-digit revenue declines in 2020 as the blockages affected volumes in the group’s parking lots.

Which subsectors will remain more robust in 2021?

The most resilient subsectors include brokerage and insurance services, testing, inspection and certification (ICT), information services and some larger customer relationship management (CRM) outsourcers, classified in the customer acquisition and engagement sub-sector in table 1 .

Corporate and legal services.
This subsector includes corporate and administrative services, such as the settlement of legal fund structures, in the case of TMF Sapphire Midco B.V., and deposit and litigation services. COVID-19 resulted in court closings, leading to a decrease in litigation-related expenses and, therefore, in revenue for our US-based issuers who operate in the outsourcing of lawsuits. However, as the pandemic progressed and federal procedures moved to remote platforms, issuers adapted with rapid cost-cutting actions and saw an increase in revenue that we hope to continue. The ratings of corporate service issuers operating in the legal segment, such as GI Revelation Acquisition LLC, currently have a stable outlook, as we expect financial performance to remain resilient over the next 12 months.

Security services.
This subsector includes personnel security, money in transit, alarm monitoring and prison operators. Allied Universal Topco LLC has benefited from new COVID-19 screening services and lower wage pressures as unemployment rates have increased. In addition, a number of factors supported the organic growth of some participants: residential alarm providers benefited from lower friction levels (as disconnections related to the change decreased), fiscal stimulus, support from residential and commercial landowners. its rates of continuous monitoring and the increasing de-urbanization and trends to work from home. These issuers, which normally generate relatively low free operating cash flow due to the large capital expenditures required to acquire customers, also registered a better cash flow dynamics as the industry adopted third-party financing models. That said, Monitronics International Inc. and 360Alert (Central Security Group Inc.), based in the United States, continue to face operational or liquidity challenges. On the money transport side, we saw a mixed impact with money collection and processing volumes in Latin America remaining strong, with those in Europe remaining slightly weaker than pre-pandemic levels.

Testing, inspection and certification.
Although some of our issuers are exposed to cyclical end markets in the aerospace and oil and gas sectors (such as Element Materials Technology Ltd.), revenue in this subsector is largely recurrent and driven by regulatory compliance needs. Their services are considered mission-critical and non-discretionary, and generally represent a very small proportion of their clients’ total budget expenditures. Given the complex nature of the services provided, ICT employees are highly qualified and difficult to replace and, therefore, we generally consider them to be a fixed cost. However, government licensing schemes in the UK, for example, have helped to ease some of the cost pressure. In addition, we note that, in many cases, ICT employees were considered essential workers and were allowed to work during the pandemic.

Information services.
Issuers such as Experian Finance PLC, Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO) and CommerceHub Inc. typically capitalize on large data sets and analytics that support effective and well-executed decision making in 2020. They also have solutions that are well integrated into their clients’ workflow and we continue to expect organic growth positive in this sector in 2021. However, M&A activity has increased and debt-financed acquisitions (often with EBITDA multiples well over 20x) are expected to slow the pace of deleveraging.

Customer involvement and acquisition.
In the outsourced customer relationship management (CRM) market, Marnix French ParentCo SAS and Teleperformance SE, based in Europe, performed well. We note that diversification was a key indicator in differentiating the issuer’s financial performance during COVID-19. In fact, CRM operators with exposure to more mature telecommunications customers were typically more negatively affected than those focused on e-commerce and technology companies, which were helped by greater outsourcing. Niche CRM operators, such as Giralda Holding Conexion S.L.U. (Konecta) demonstrated strong resilience, helped by solid relationships with customers. From an operational perspective, despite some initial concerns about the effect of remote work on the call center’s customer experience and satisfaction, we note that many of our issuers have successfully performed work at home workflows, which is likely to support flexibility and operation of the future workforce margins.

Consulting and other professional services.
While we see consulting as a discretionary service, we expect customer retention rates to remain stable and credit quality to remain robust in 2021. Revenue growth has remained largely positive, with issuers offering countercyclical services, such as financial advice and restructuring. (for example, FTI Consulting Inc. and AlixPartners LLP), or with high exposure to the digital and technology end markets (such as Castillon SAS). We saw some erosion at the margins, despite cuts in partners and freezing of contracts. This has been the case in all of our environmental consultancies with significant exposure to major oil companies.

Brokerage and insurance services.
Our classified insurance brokers and agents have shown remarkable resilience since the beginning of COVID-19. The majority of insurance brokers (which comprise the majority of companies in the portfolio) ended 2020 with stable to slightly positive organic growth, despite macroeconomic obstacles, aided by recurring and relatively non-discretionary basic product offerings and benefits from rate hikes. insurance, which helped to mitigate insured exposure declines. Margins also showed stability and, in many cases, strengthened for the brokers we evaluated, as these companies benefited from the variable auto-correction compensation lever, natural cost reductions in the COVID-19 environment for items such as reduced travel and entertainment and proactive expense management initiatives in discretionary line items.

The trends varied materially for the rest of our insurance services companies, given the diversity of the portfolio, with the most negatively affected ones consisting of our medical cost containment companies with revenue bonds with elective health procedures and bond administrators with bonds revenue from light vehicle sales and consumer spending, some of which showed declines of up to double digits in the second quarter of 2020. Still, even these most affected issuers showed a notable recovery and a material sequential improvement in the second half of the year, given the underlying improvement trends, such as a continued acceleration in medical use and claims volume.

We expect all insurance services sub-sectors to show organic growth in 2021, supported by continued macro improvements and several new product development initiatives. For more information on this subsector, see “After showing resilience for an unprecedented year, global insurance brokers and agents enter 2021 on a solid footing, “published on January 28, 2021.

What explains the recent defaults in the business services sector and will they decrease in 2021?

The business services sector already had poor average credit quality before the pandemic, given a high percentage of private equity ownership, which tends to foster aggressive financial policies and highly leveraged balance sheets. Companies that recently went into default typically operate in more cyclical end markets, hit harder by travel restrictions, roadblocks, and measures of social distance. Existing operational inefficiencies were exacerbated by the pandemic and adverse exposures to the final market. Given the large number of companies with low ratings across the portfolio, there is likely to be more default in 2021, but we expect the default rate to decrease as the vaccine program is implemented and the economy opens up again later this year. .

Financial policy and stressed liquidity positions also contributed to the increase in the default rate. In some cases, refinancing risk accelerated the path to default, as was the case with the US-based home security and monitoring company, Central Security Group, which was unable to pay its past due payments.

We have also seen cases where issuers with relatively countercyclical business offers have defaulted. For example, ASP MCS Acquisition Corp. (MCS). This is a US-based provider of property maintenance services (for example, lawn maintenance, utility management) for properties with defaulting mortgages. As such, the group typically benefits from a countercyclical business model and records higher sales as unemployment and unemployment rates increase. However, the group’s finances did not materially improve during the pandemic, as a moratorium on eviction came into effect, preventing homeowners from evicting residential tenants. We note that the group, which lost contracts in 2019 with the banks’ decision to bring the services offered by MCS in, historically had an unsustainable capital structure and weak liquidity. In fact, the group was downgraded to ‘CCC’ in August 2019, before being downgraded to ‘D’ for failure to pay interest in June 2020.

Business and consumer services: standards and restructuring since March 1, 2020

ICR on March 30, 2021

D / SD date

Justification *

geography

Final market

PGX Holdings Inc.

CCC + / Stable

4/1/2020

Anguished exchange

WE.

Consumer credit report repair service provider.

RGIS Holdings LLC

B- / Negative

6/10/2020

Anguished exchange

WE.

Provider of accounting and physical inventory verification services, mainly for retail customers.

ASP MCS Acquisition Corp.

Withdrawn

6/18/2020

Pattern

WE.

Organizes and manages local field service delivery. Its services include inspections, repairs, lawn maintenance, rubble removal, janitorial services, management of utilities, registration of vacant properties and other services to maintain the value of a property.

GK Holdings Inc.

D / –

6/19/2020

Pattern

WE.

Provides professional development for advances in application development, big data analytics, change management, cloud computing, cyber security and networking.

CB Poly Investments LLC

CCC + / Negative

07/28/2020

Anguished exchange

WE.

Supplier of a wide variety of promotional, lifestyle and gift products.

KCIBT Holdings LP

CCC / Negative

08/24/2020

Anguished exchange

WE.

Third-party supplier of visas, passports and immigration-related travel documentation.

iQor Holdings Inc.

CCC + / Negative

9/10/2020

Pattern

WE.

Business process outsourcing – provides customer support and outsourcing solutions to customers in sectors such as media and wireless, digital infrastructure, telecommunications and transportation and logistics.

Central Security Group, Inc./Alert 360 Opco Inc.

CCC + / Negative

10/19/2020

Anguished exchange

WE.

Security and home monitoring services.

Selecta Group BV

CCC + / Stable

10/28/2020

Anguished exchange

Europe

Self-service vending machine operator operating in offices and public or semi-public areas.

Haya Real Estate S.A.U

CCC + / Negative

11/26/2020

Anguished exchange

Europe

Independent management agent for non-performing loans in the Spanish market.

Although we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of companies guaranteeing waiver of agreements across the corporate universe, we have not seen a trend of this magnitude in the business services sector. For example, in the U.S. since April 2020, we estimate that around 15% of U.S. loan issuers have eased financial clauses (suspension and waiver periods) on their credit lines, but we estimate that number to be less than 5% for our classified business service portfolio.

For the most part, we expect the early recovery in the final markets to coincide with the end of covenant relief and reductions in calculations. However, issuers facing slower recoveries may face new liquidity gaps or be forced to return to the negotiating table with their creditors in the coming months.

How has external support in the form of government support schemes helped to limit the downgrade of ratings?

Our European issuers made extensive use of COVID-19 support measures in the form of government programs and resources available, in contrast to our largest issuers or issuers owned by financial sponsors in the USA who did not qualify for support programs. However, many US issuers have taken advantage of the deferred payroll tax payments that help sustain liquidity positions.

The implementation and extension of support schemes for civil servants, such as the employee leave scheme in the UK and partial unemployment in France (where employees receive a percentage of their gross salary), continue to benefit many commercial services companies. Personnel costs are usually the largest part (usually up to 60%) of the total operating costs. The use of government-backed debt financing in the United Kingdom (for example, Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility) has been quite limited in our assessed portfolio. This is because issuers, especially those with government contracts, have tried to show goodwill and resilience by not adopting these support measures when not needed. However, many issuers based in France, especially those operating in CRM and business process outsourcing, have taken out loans through the PGE scheme (70% -90% loans guaranteed by the French government). More generally, the vast majority of our issuers have also chosen to delay VAT payments.

In the USA, our issuers operating in the daycare sector have benefited from the reauthorization of the federal concession for the development of daycare centers. The provision of funds lessened the impact of COVID-19 for daycare operators across the U.S., who were likely to face a period of cash burn during the first waves of the pandemic and subsequent blockades. We believe that existing levels of support will continue and are likely to continue. That said, the direct use of government support in our broader US portfolio has been limited, with little participation in the Payroll Protection Program. However, the government took steps to boost the economy through the CARES Act (stimulus bill), which arguably indirectly supported the credit quality of some of our issuers exposed to small and medium-sized companies.

What are the main risks that remain? Qual será a forma da recuperação?

Sob nossa atual suposição de caso-base de que uma vacina ou tratamento eficaz estará amplamente disponível no terceiro trimestre de 2021 nas economias mais desenvolvidas, prevemos uma recuperação das métricas de crédito em 2021 para a maioria das empresas, à medida que os bloqueios forem mais fáceis e os contratos forem retomados. No entanto, haverá diferenças significativas entre os subsetores, e esperamos que os riscos de baixa permaneçam, como novas variantes potenciais do COVID-19 e os contínuos ventos contrários.

PIB real e crescimento do consumo mais fracos do que esperamos atualmente.
A receita no segmento de serviços empresariais é geralmente correlacionada com o PIB. Em nosso caso base, esperamos que o crescimento econômico global real se recupere para 5,6% em 2021, o PIB da zona do euro salte para 4,2%, o crescimento do PIB dos EUA de 6,5% e o crescimento do Reino Unido de 4,3%. No entanto, a extensão de uma recuperação dependerá em grande parte da eficácia com que as vacinas são distribuídas onde nossos emissores operam.

Aumento das falências que podem levar a um crescimento mais fraco à medida que os governos retirem as medidas de apoio.
À medida que os esquemas de apoio do governo se desfazem, o EBITDA pode diminuir significativamente para os emissores que operam em mercados que não se recuperaram. Isso pode resultar em um aumento nas falências de empresas e possivelmente em uma desaceleração econômica.

Mudanças estruturais decorrentes de novas práticas de trabalho.
À medida que o trabalho em casa continua, os empregadores vão adotar soluções de trabalho permanente mais flexíveis, resultando em uma redução no espaço de escritório. Quando os contratos são baseados em metros quadrados limpos ou são baseados em projetos, isso pode diminuir a receita permanentemente. Podemos ver um impacto tanto nos serviços técnicos de instalação e manutenção de maior valor agregado quanto nos serviços de higiene e gerenciamento de instalações de menor valor agregado. Além disso, uma mudança permanente no comportamento do consumidor, como o aumento do comércio eletrônico, pode prejudicar os prestadores de serviços comerciais que oferecem suporte aos varejistas tradicionais.

Reversões de capital de giro.
Isso está fortalecendo as posições de caixa que continuam a diminuir para os emissores que experimentam uma demanda reduzida por seus serviços. No entanto, nós os vemos como efeitos positivos pontuais que retardarão a pressão sobre a liquidez para entidades mais fracas. Somando-se a essa pressão, poderia haver o reembolso de pagamentos diferidos originalmente devidos em 2020 para as empresas que voltaram a crescer.

Inflação e pressão de preços.
Negócios comoditizados, como emissores de serviços de segurança ou instalações, podem sofrer com a redução dos preços ou custos de insumos de concorrentes em dificuldades, o que reduziria as margens EBITDA.

Dificuldades com o serviço da dívida se as condições operacionais não melhorarem.
Para nossos emissores mais fracos que passaram por trocas problemáticas, freqüentemente observamos um alívio da carga de juros quando a empresa troca instrumentos de dívida que pagam juros em dinheiro por títulos de pagamento em espécie. Acreditamos que a existência desses instrumentos de juros altos e incrementos, embora proporcionem alívio de caixa ao pagar o serviço da dívida, podem representar desafios caso uma recuperação não se materialize ou coloque pressão sobre a empresa quando ela eventualmente precisar se recapitalizar.

A S&P Global Ratings acredita que continua alta, embora moderada, a incerteza sobre a evolução da pandemia do coronavírus e seus efeitos econômicos. A produção de vacinas está aumentando e as implementações estão ganhando ritmo em todo o mundo. A imunização generalizada, que ajudará a pavimentar o caminho para um retorno a níveis mais normais de atividade social e econômica, parece ser alcançável pela maioria das economias desenvolvidas até o final do terceiro trimestre. No entanto, alguns mercados emergentes só podem conseguir uma imunização generalizada no final do ano ou mais tarde. Usamos essas suposições sobre o momento da vacina para avaliar as implicações econômicas e de crédito associadas à pandemia (veja nossa pesquisa aqui: www.spglobal.com/ratings). Conforme a situação evolui, atualizaremos nossas premissas e estimativas de acordo.

Editor: Rose Marie Burke. Designer Digital: Joe Carrick-Varty.

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