30 April 2009

Expropriation has financial impacts on NL-based Fortis

From Fortis Inc’s first quarter financial statements, issued Thursday comes an indication of the wider impact Bill 75 has had.

Bear in mind the bill expropriated the assets of several companies besides Abitibi, including the Exploits Partnership which was owned 51% by Fortis Properties.

From the Critical Accounting Estimates section:
Exploits Partnership

Following the announcement by Abitibi of its intention to close its Grand Falls-Windsor newsprint mill on March 31, 2009, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador expropriated most of the Newfoundland-based assets of Abitibi. The expropriated assets included the hydroelectric generating facility assets of the Exploits Partnership. The Exploits Partnership is owned 51 per cent by Fortis Properties and 49 per cent by Abitibi.

The Exploits Partnership had previously incurred a term loan from several lenders to finance its assets. As at December 31, 2008, approximately $61 million remained outstanding under this term loan. The term loan is withoutrecourse to Fortis or Abitibi, as partners of the Exploits Partnership, and is secured by both the hydroelectric generating assets and related agreements regarding rights to operate and sell power to Newfoundland Hydro during the term of the loan. Although the expropriation has caused the Exploits Partnership to default on the term loan, to date the lenders have not demanded accelerated repayment of the term loan. The Exploits Partnership made the scheduled term loan payment for the quarter ended March 31, 2009. As at March 31, 2009, the balance outstanding under the term loan was approximately $60 million. [bold added]

The generation and sale of electricity by the Exploits Partnership continued in the normal course until the newsprint mill closed on February 12, 2009, up to which point Newfoundland Hydro paid the Exploits Partnership for the energy produced on the same basis as the pre-expropriation power purchase agreement. Payment for all energy delivered since February 13, 2009 is currently outstanding from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador pending resolution of expropriation matters. The day-to-day operations of the hydroelectric generating facilities have been assumed by Nalcor Energy, a crown corporation, as the agent for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador with respect to this matter.

On March 24, 2009, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that Abitibi had discontinued discussions with Nalcor Energy regarding compensation for the expropriated assets. Abitibi, which was incorporated in the US, has also indicated that it intends to challenge the expropriation of its assets and seek compensation through the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Historically, the financial statements of the Exploits Partnership were consolidated in the financial statements of Fortis. Pending resolution of the above matters, deferred financing costs of $2 million and utility capital assets of $61 million related to the Exploits Partnership were reclassified to other assets and the $61 million term loan was reclassified as current on the consolidated balance sheet of Fortis as at December 31, 2008.

During the quarter, the combination of uncertainty created by the expropriation and the loss of control over cash flows of the Exploits Partnership has required Fortis to commence reporting its investment in theExploits Partnership using the equity method of accounting, effective February 13, 2009. Consequently, the assets and liabilities of the Exploits Partnership are no longer consolidated in the accounts of Fortis. Equity earnings recognized during the first quarter of 2009 were equivalent to the amount that would have been recognized in the absence of the expropriation. This approach is consistent with the public statement of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador that it is not its intention to adversely affect the business interests of lenders or independent partners of Abitibi.