S&P Global became the latest to cut Kraft Heinz’s credit rating to the lowest investment grade on Thursday, potentially further complicating the packaged food conglomerate’s efforts to reverse flagging sales growth and draw a line under problems with its accounting practices.
The credit rating agency downgraded the maker of Heinz ketchup and Philadelphia cream cheese to BBB- from BBB. While the outlook was revised from negative to stable, suggesting no further downgrades are imminent, the move leaves Kraft Heinz’s just one notch away from junk status. Both Fitch and Moody’s also have Kraft at one step above junk.
The food giant revealed in February it had received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to an investigation into the company’s accounting and controls. The news, delivered alongside a disastrous set of fourth-quarter results that saw the company take a $15bn writedown and cut its dividend by one-third, prompted a sharp sell-off in the stock and the departure of Bernardo Hees as chief executive.
The company was forced to restate nearly three years of results in May following an internal probe into the accounting errors.
The SEC investigation remains ongoing. In its note on Thursday, analysts at S&P said in addition to regulatory issues, the company faces an uphill battle to reverse falling sales growth. Like other packaged goods company Kraft Heinz is grappling with quickly changing shopper tastes that favour fresh products over processed ones and rising competition from smaller, more nimble brands.
“Our view of the company’s business is diminished, including our expectation that certain key brands are unlikely to grow sales without discounting or successful innovation — which has not historically been a company strength — and doubts about the long-term success of the 3G cost-cutting strategy. We also believe there are governance deficiencies around internal controls, poor post-Kraft integration cost takeout planning, and the ongoing SEC investigation,” it said.
Kraft Heinz now expects to report its quarterly results on or before July 31.
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