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Fitch affirms Molson Coors on strong brand scale

Fitch Ratings on Jan. 15 affirmed Molson Coors Brewing Co.'s long-term debt ratings at BBB- with a stable outlook, citing the scale and strength of the Colorado-based brewer's global and regional brands, including Coors Light, Miller Lite, Molson Canadian and Carling.

The affirmation also applies to the long-term debt ratings of Molson Coors subsidiary Molson Coors International LP.

The rating agency said it believes Molson Coors will be able to manage an EBITDA rebase in 2020 given its disciplined cost savings focus and long-term tax shield. Fitch forecasts free cash flow generation of $500 million annually for Molson Coors, with the majority of the money to be used for further debt reduction.

The agency also expects Molson Coors to see relatively stable leverage with EBITDA trending toward $2.1 billion in 2020 from about $2.3 billion in 2019.

Fitch said aside from Molson Coors' global and regional brands, the company's above-premium brands like Blue Moon, Staropramen and a number of smaller, faster-growing brands also help support the group's market share positions.

Fitch also highlighted the brewer's cost initiatives that resulted in savings of more than $200 million annually since 2012.

The agency said it could upgrade Molson Coors' ratings if the company makes a public commitment to sustain gross leverage at less than 3.5x, if it sustains revenue growth in low-single digits, or if it demonstrates margin expansion over a multiyear period.

Conversely, a downgrade is likely if the company's gross leverage is sustained above 4x, or in the event of a lack of execution on current synergy initiatives, among other factors. Fitch also warned that material M&A or a change in financial policy could also trigger a downgrade.