15 March 2010

US and UK Move Closer to Ratings Downgrades - Or Not

There is a spread of glass 'half-empty' and 'half-full' versions of this story in the news today. The Financial Times stresses that the ratings are 'safe' for now and 'well-positioned' while others such as Business Week choose to emphasize the deterioration and potential risk.

Who are Moody's and SP to judge this? Their shocking performance in the subprime and credit markets shows them repeatedly to be little more than carnival barkers and shills, willing to say almost anything for pay. Are they as malleable to political and commercial influence in this as they have shown themselves to be in the recent financial scandals?

And yet, the position of the fiat currencies and the financial engineers does seem to deteriorate to anyone who can look at debt to GDP ratios, debt servicability, and the quality of government statistics. And some currencies are more equal than others, being sustained by holdings in foreign reserves because of the current structure of international finance.

It is unlikely, however, that we will hear about any collapse before it happens from these US-based ratings agencies. Their ratings are triggers for traders however, and could be self-fulfilling, a tool for the currency bears, who use leverage to bring down nations.

The US will seek to stand the Dollar on the heads of Sterling and then the Euro to sustain its head about the rising waters.

Make no mistake about this. Keep an eye on Sterling as the currency wars intensify.

NY Times
Credit Agency Warns U.S. and Others of Risk to Top Rating

March 15, 2010

PARIS — The United States, Germany and other major economies have moved “substantially” closer to losing their top-notch credit ratings and can not depend solely on economic growth to save them, a report warned on Monday.

The ratings of the Aaa governments — which also include Britain, France, Spain and the Nordic countries — are currently “stable,” Moody’s Investor Service wrote in the report. But, it added, “their ‘distance-to-downgrade’ has in all cases substantially diminished.”

Growth alone will not resolve an increasingly complicated debt equation,” Moody’s said. “Preserving debt affordability” — the ratio of interest payments to government revenues — “at levels consistent with Aaa ratings will invariably require fiscal adjustments of a magnitude that, in some cases, will test social cohesion.”

Greece, Portugal and other countries that are already in far worse shape have been rocked by strikes and other protests in recent weeks as they try to adopt tough austerity measures.

Without a stronger recovery, governments could encounter serious trouble in phasing out government support for the economy, Arnaud Marès, the main author of the report, said in a statement. That “could yet make their credit more vulnerable,” he said.

Credit ratings are important because higher-rated governments are typically able to borrow at lower costs. Last May, Moody’s cut Japan’s Aaa rating to Aa2, an acknowledgement of the market’s growing unease with the debt burden of the Asian country...

In the United States, the Obama administration estimates that the deficit will rise to 10.6 percent of gross domestic product in the current fiscal year, the highest since 1946, and federal debt will reach 64 percent of G.D.P. Government expenditures are expected to rise to a postwar high of 25.4 percent of G.D.P.

For now, the U.S. debt remains affordable, Moody’s said, as the ratio of interest payments to revenue fell to 8.7 percent in the current year, after peaking at 10.0 percent two years ago. If that trend were to reverse, the Moody’s analysts said, “there would at some point be downward pressure on the Aaa rating of the federal government.”

In Britain, Moody’s said, the risk is that tax receipts fail to keep pace with forecasts, as the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has little room left to maneuver. In that situation, the debt — which the government already predicts will stabilize at around 90 percent of G.D.P. — could balloon, undermining the credit rating.

In comparison to both Britain and the United States, the report noted, households in France and Germany entered the crisis with relatively low indebtedness, and hence have a little more room for maneuver. Yet both countries will find themselves under pressure to maintain financial discipline in the event that growth does not rise substantially...

As for the Nordic countries, the agency said the region entered the crisis in relatively good shape, and their credit ratings appeared to be well protected.