Ratings Recap: Verlan, ACMAT, Heritage, Alfa, Petroleum Marketers, Berkshire (Debt), Consumers, ACA Financial

January 15, 2008

A.M. Best Co. indicated that the financial strength rating (FSR) of ‘A’ (Excellent) and issuer credit rating (ICR) of “a” of Verlan Fire Insurance Company of Silver Spring, MD, are unchanged following the recently announced definitive agreement by The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc. of Worcester, Mass. to acquire the privately held Verlan Holdings, Inc., the immediate parent of Verlan Fire. The Hanover Insurance Group Property and Casualty Insurance Companies’ FSR of ‘A-‘ (Excellent) and ICRs of “a-” and Hanover’ s ICR of “bbb-” are also unchanged.

A.M. Best Co. has upgraded the issuer credit rating (ICR) to “bbb+” from “bbb” for ACMAT Corporation (ACMAT) of New Britain, Conn. And the ICR to “a+” from “a” and affirmed the financial strength rating of A (Excellent) of ACMAT’ s wholly owned subsidiary, ACSTAR Insurance Company of Chicago. The outlook for all the ratings is stable. “The upgrading of the ICRs reflects ACSTAR’ s strong capital position, historically strong operating performance and conservative risk management approach,” said Best. “The company is a provider of surety bonds for general building, specialty trade, environmental remediation and asbestos abatement contractors, lead abatement contractors and solid waste disposal contractors.”

A.M. Best Co. said that the financial strength rating of ‘A-‘ (Excellent) and the issuer credit rating of “a-” of Heritage Indemnity Company of Burbank, Calif. are unchanged following the recent acquisition by Wachovia Corporation of Heritage from General Electric Company. The transaction includes the affiliated non-insurance companies that support the vehicle service contract business in which Heritage is engaged, as well as an affiliated Bermuda-domiciled company, Westlake Insurance Company Ltd. Heritage and its affiliated companies, which were also acquired, are associated with Wachovia Dealer Services.

A.M. Best Co. has affirmed the financial strength rating (FSR) of ‘A+’ (Superior) and the issuer credit ratings (ICR) of “aa-” of Alfa Insurance Group and its members. Best also affirmed the ICR and debt ratings of “a” of Alfa Corporation, and in addition the FSR of ‘A+’ (Superior) and the ICR of “aa-” of Alfa Life Insurance Corporation. The outlook for all of these ratings is stable. Best also has affirmed the debt rating of AMB-1 on the commercial paper program of Alfa Corporation. All of the companies, except Alfa Alliance Insurance Company, are domiciled in Montgomery, Ala. “The ratings reflect Alfa’s solid risk-adjusted capitalization, its long-term operating performance and sustainable competitive advantage,” said Best. “These rating factors are derived from management’ s conservative operating philosophy, exceptional customer service and the group’ s firmly entrenched personal lines market position in Alabama.”

A.M. Best Co. has assigned a financial strength rating (FSR) of ‘B++’ (Good) and an issuer credit rating (ICR) of “bbb” to Petroleum Marketers Management Insurance Company (PMMIC) of Des Moines, Iowa with a stable outlook. “These rating actions reflect PMMIC’ s excellent capitalization, solid operating performance and niche market position within the underground storage tank (UST) business,” said Best. “The ratings also recognize management’ s long experience in the UST business, its conservative business plan and projections over the near term.”

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has assigned its ‘AAA’ senior debt rating to Berkshire Hathaway Finance Corp.’s (BHFC) $2.0 billion senior notes offering, of which $1.5 billion in three-year floating-rate notes are set to mature on Jan. 11, 2011, and the remaining $500 million in five-year fixed-rate notes are due on Jan. 15, 2013. “The rating is based on Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s extremely strong capitalization and competitive position and extremely strong financial flexibility,” explained S&P credit analyst Damien Magarelli. In addition S&P said Berkshire “has very strong operating performance.” Offsetting these positives are concerns about its “exposure to large loss events, investment concentrations, and exposure to adverse reserve development due to the assumption of retroactive risks.”

A.M. Best Co. has upgraded the financial strength rating to ‘B++’ (Good) from ‘B+’ (Good) and assigned an issuer credit rating of “bbb+” to Consumers Insurance USA, Inc. of Murfreesboro, Tenn. with a stable outlook. “The ratings reflect Consumer Insurance’ s solid operating results over the past several years and its strengthened risk-adjusted capital position,” Best explained. “The company’ s recent operating profitability has been driven by management’ s underwriting discipline, enhanced systems technology and local market knowledge.”

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has suspended its ratings on public finance and corporate transactions insured by ACA Financial Guaranty Corp. that do not have an underlying public rating from Standard & Poor’s. S&P noted: “Following the downgrade of ACA’s financial strength rating to ‘CCC/CreditWatch Developing’ from ‘A/CreditWatch Negative’ on Dec. 19, 2007, and after receiving feedback from ACA management and market participants, Standard & Poor’s has concluded that current ACA-enhanced issue ratings may not adequately reflect the underlying credit characteristics of these transactions. In the vast majority of cases, at the time of issuance, issuers chose not to request a Standard & Poor’s public underlying rating (SPUR), but instead proceeded solely on the basis of the insurer’s rating that Standard & Poor’s assigned to the transaction. As a result, Standard & Poor’s has suspended its ratings on those transactions to which it had not assigned a SPUR. Issues to which Standard & Poor’s originally assigned a SPUR will retain that rating.”

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