Moody’s rating one notch below Fitch equivalent BBB+ rating, which was affirmed in April.
The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA) received a downgraded issuer rating of a Baa2 from Baa1, with a negative outlook from Moody’s Investor’s Services following its annual ratings surveillance. The rating remains investment-grade. The Moody’s rating is in stark contrast to Fitch’s April 2017 rating that affirmed JMAA’s approximately $11 million in outstanding airport revenue bonds at “BBB+” with a stable outlook. Moody’s rating affirms that the Authority is in full compliance with its bond ordinance covenants and requirements.
Notwithstanding the ratings action, Moody’s did note the Authority’s “sound financial position” following the departure of Southwest and strong liquidity levels, with over a year’s worth of cash on hand in reserve to protect against unanticipated events.
The primary rationales cited by Moody’s for its ratings action were the (1) Jackson MSA’s continued underperformance of the national economy; and (2) continued traffic decreases at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. Such traffic decreases have slowed substantially since Southwest Airlines ended service to the Airport in June 2014 to essentially stable annual traffic numbers. The Authority expects passenger traffic for its fiscal year ending September 30 to be down approximately 0.4% versus the prior year and is encouraged by recent airline schedule changes that traffic for the upcoming fiscal year will increase.
Future flight schedules for the Airport for the third quarter (July-September 2017) show airlines as a whole expanding service to Jackson, with departing seats increasing 2.6% over this period of time as American adds flight frequencies to Charlotte and United adds flight frequencies to Houston. Also over this period of time, the Airport will offer service to Dallas/Fort Worth (on American) and to Atlanta (on Delta) on larger aircraft with expanded first-class cabins.
“After almost two decades of being arguably overserved by Southwest and drawing from passengers as far north as Memphis and as far south as the Gulf Coast, we feel strongly that the Jackson region is now underserved,” said Chief Executive Officer Carl D. Newman. “That’s why we continue to meet proactively with airlines to demonstrate to them the value of the Jackson market, and we are optimistic that the near-term trend of air service increases will take hold.”
Recognizing the need for additional air service to the Jackson region, JMAA held ongoing meetings this week with airlines currently serving the Airport as well as those evaluating adding new service. These efforts are in support of the Authority’s Strategic Plan 2021, which included as a primary goal increasing air service.
“While this rating action today by Moody’s is unfortunate, and we feel that Fitch’s rating is better representative of the Authority’s solid creditworthiness, we feel it is important to stress that the Authority is exceeding the covenants and requirements of its bond ordinance,” said Newman. Through the implementation of its Strategic Plan 2021, the Authority is committed to continuing to seek out opportunities to enhance operating revenues and increase operational efficiency.”