--Moody's downgrades YPF, citing debt challenges
--YPF needs foreign currency to make debt payments
--It is unclear where YPF will get funds for big investment plan
Moody's Investors Service has downgraded YPF SA (YPF, YPFD.BA), Argentina's biggest oil and gas producer, one notch further into junk territory, highlighting the company's debt challenges.
Moody's said Tuesday that YPF is taking on debt and that it continues to face challenges meeting short-term debt obligations.
The ratings company lowered YPF's global local currency rating to Caa1, seven levels into junk territory. The outlook is stable.
Moody's said YPF's need for foreign currency to pay its debt raises the "risk of a debt restructuring that would result in losses to creditors and prompt a distressed exchange default."
Last month, Argentina's government expropriated a 51% stake in YPF from Spain's Repsol YPF SA (>> Repsol YPF SA) in a dispute over investment and declining production.
Moody's said YPF's exposure to change-of-control and nationalization clauses as a result of the ownership transfer is "an immediate concern."
The ratings firm also said a change-of-control or nationalization could be deemed an event of default under certain debt agreements and lead to acceleration rights. About $1.6 billion of YPF's debt obligations were subject to these clauses, as of May 16.
Moody's said YPF hasn't received default or acceleration notices on any of its debt obligations, but YPF heavily relies on short-term debt.
Last week, YPF said it would invest $35 billion to boost oil and gas production, but it is unclear where it will get that money.
Meanwhile, investors have been dumping YPF stock on concern about its future. YPF's shares traded in New York fell almost 8% to $10.25 Tuesday, valuing the company at about $4 billion.
A year ago YPF's New York shares traded at more than $46.
YPF is struggling to boost declining output while also meeting the government's goal of keeping energy prices dirt cheap.
Energy analysts, including eight former Argentine energy secretaries, say these twins goals are incompatible and that raising output will require raising oil and gas prices to fund the investment.
--Taos Turner in Buenos Aires contributed to this article
Write to Nathalie Tadena at [email protected]