Ascension outlook revised to negative

While affirming its default rating and $6.6 billion of bonds at "AA+," Fitch Ratings on Sept. 26 lowered the outlook for St. Louis-based Ascension to negative from stable.

The move followed Ascension reporting a $3 billion operating loss Sept. 14, an amount described by Fitch as "noteworthy." Operating margins will be pressured for the near term even as improvements are expected in the long term, Fitch said, with a 3 percent figure expected in the next several years.

The 140-hospital system's net debt levels remain favorable, especially compared with peers, Fitch said.

"It is Fitch's expectation that Ascension's net debt position will improve materially over the near to intermediate term, as what Fitch would characterize as concentrated operational losses are addressed," according to the ratings agency's note.

Becker's reached out to Ascension for comment and will update this story accordingly.

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