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Moody's: Restart on UCPB privatization 'credit positive'

In a statement, the United Coconut Planters Bank welcomed the lifting of the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order on former president Benigno Aquino III’s Executive Orders 179 and 180 which called for the recapitalization of the bank through privatization. File

MANILA, Philippines — Moody’s Investors Service lauded the government’s plan to push through with the privatization of the United Coconut Planters Bank, saying such a move will help boost the bank’s prospects for an improved credit score.

In a statement, Moody’s said that a successful privatization and recapitalization of the UCPB, which has a “caa1” baseline credit assessment, will help the bank raise new equity capital to meet Basel III capital requirements—which it said a “credit positive.”

“And, if a larger bank acquires UCPB, we expect that UCPB’s credit quality would benefit from the support of its new majority shareholder,” the global debt watcher said.

“Although no details have been released by either the government or the bank, we expect the terms of the recapitalization plan by first-quarter 2018, shortly after the government and the bank restart the planning work that was done during the last privatization attempt,” it added.

During a forum organized by the Manila Overseas Press Club, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the UCPB is currently in the list of assets to be sold under the government’s privatization program.

The announcement came days after the Supreme Court lifted the temporary restraining order on the use of the P75 billion coco levy funds.

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“We have a bank that is supposed to be in play for privatization,” Dominguez said, confirming thereafter that he was referring to UCPB.

In 2013, the UCPB announced that its shareholders approved the increase in its capital to P40 billion in compliance with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ requirements on the Basel III leverage ratio.

This recapitalization program is also part of the 10-year rehabilitation plan of the bank which started in 2008.

“If the privatization and recapitalization are successful, the new equity capital will support UCPB’s growth and maintain its minimum Tier 1 capital ratio above a 10-percent requirement that includes a capital conservation buffer required for all Philippine banks,” Moody’s said.

In 2013, the SC ruled that 72.2 percent of the equity stake in UCPB is owned by the government as it was acquired using “coco levy” funds or taxes collected from coconut farmers through Presidential Decree 755 in 1975.

Two years later, former president Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Oder 179 ordering the inventory, transfer, reconveyance and disposition of coco levy assets for the benefit of the coconut industry, as well as the recapitalization of UCPB through privatization.

He also issued EO 180 which mandates the use of the assets for an “Integrated Coconut Industry Roadmap.”

The Privatization Council then approved the public bidding for the 72.2 percent stake of the government in UCPB that was supposed to be conducted in September 2015.

However, the planned sale did not push through after the SC issued in June 2015 a TRO, stalling the implementation of EOs 179 and 180. This was based on the petition filed by the Confederation of Coconut Farmers’ Organizations of the Philippines.

The high court lifted the TRO last week, but at the same time voided four sections in the Guidelines for Utilization of Coco Levy Funds.

The SC also maintained that coco levy assets are owned by the public, and said the Congress must first provide a law for the disbursement of the funds.

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