CHICAGO — Moody's Investors Service affirmed Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History's A2 rating as the museum seeks to improve its balance sheet through an ongoing restructuring and plans to expand its capital campaign.

The Sept. 16 action impacts $78 million of debt from a 2002 issue sold through the former Illinois Educational Facilities Authority. The outlook is stable. The museum has a total of $128 million of rated debt, but bonds sold in 1990 are rated A1 based on a letter of credit from Northern Trust Co. and securities sold in 2000 are rated Aa3 based on an LOC from JPMorgan Chase Bank NA.

The rating reflects the museum's "position as a leading cultural institution, consistently strong operating cash flow, good unrestricted monthly liquidity for operations, and growing balance sheet resources cushioning debt and providing the investments to fund bullet maturities," Moody's wrote.

The museum had a strong operating cash flow margin of 19.5% in fiscal 2013 and benefitted from unrestricted monthly liquidity of $206 million.

The museum's challenges include low working capital reserves and a high debt burden relative to its revenues and balance sheet reserves. It's also strained by the use of a variable rate structure on its debt in bullet maturities, and its operations are in the red when including depreciation expense.

"Leverage is extremely high with no additional debt capacity at this rating, with debt to revenues of 2.4 times and 8.6% debt service to operations for fiscal year 2013 that would be substantially higher if there was regular principal amortization," Moody's wrote.

The stable outlook reflects Moody's expectations that cash flow will remain favorable and no additional debt will be sold with "expectations for future financial stability given recent board actions addressing cost structure to improve operations."

The museum has undertaken a "plan for transformation" that includes a reorganization of departments, plans to reduce expenses by $5 million, capital projects and heightened fundraising to support it. The board intends to launch a major campaign seeking to raise $250 million, according to the Moody's report. That's up from a goal of $100 million announced in 2012.

The field is one of 11 museums on Chicago Park District owned land. It's located downtown along the Lake Michigan shore and saw 1.28 million visitors in fiscal 2013. Numbers are tracking at similar levels so far for 2014.

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