Standard & Poor’s (S&P) cut its credit rating on Noble Group to junk on Thursday, adding to concerns about financing costs for Asia’s biggest commodity trader a week after a similar downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service.
“We downgraded Noble because the company’s liquidity is below what we expect for a strong liquidity position, despite the sale of its agricultural unit,” S&P credit analyst Cindy Huang said in a statement and cut the company’s rating to BB+ from BBB-.
“Given the prospects for a prolonged slump in commodities prices, we expect lenders to take a more cautious view toward financing commodities businesses,” Huang said.
Analysts expect the downgrades to put more pressure on Noble, which has a total of $2.5 billion worth of loans due in 2016, according to data from Thomson Reuters LPC.
Last month, Noble’s Chief Executive Yusuf Alireza defended the trader’s financial position after calling Moody’s move “unexpected” in a letter to staff.
Noble’s shares have fallen by around 70 percent since mid-February after blogger Iceberg Research questioned the company’s accounting practices. Noble defended its finances and in August a report by board-appointed consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers found no wrongdoing.
Iceberg said S&P’s move “validates one of our main arguments against Noble: this company has never been investment grade.”
Moody’s cut to non-investment grade status came just a week after Noble agreed to sell its remaining 49 percent stake in its agribusiness venture to China’s COFCO International for $750 million. As Noble sought to cut debt swiftly and retain its investment grade rating, the deal was priced comparatively low.
Noble said the rating change was not expected to have a material impact on its operations. “To date, the increased collateral calls have been immaterial and below the previously indicated range of $100 million to $200 million,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
“We would like to reiterate that once the proposed Noble Agri deal closes, our rating metrics will substantially exceed those required of an investment grade credit,” it said.
Noble’s shares fell as much as 11.8 percent to the lowest levels since 2008 in a weak day for Asian markets. The year-long rout in commodity markets has punished prices of raw materials that Noble handles from oil to copper.
S&P also lowered its long-term corporate credit rating on the Hong Kong-headquartered company to ‘BB+’ from ‘BBB-‘.
Fitch Ratings said Noble’s increased collateral requirements following a series of credit events in 2015 was manageable given its improved liquidity following asset sales.