For the second time since August, S&P has reaffirmed its BBB+ rating for Irish government bonds. BBB+ is two grades above junk status and is defined as “adequate capacity to meet financial commitments, but more subject to adverse economic conditions”. In August, though, the outlook was Stable, now it is Negative. That implies there is a one-in-three chance of a downgrade over the next two years.
Italy, Portugal and Spain all had two-notch downgrades. Italy has been moved to BBB+ and now stands alongside Ireland. Portugal, which previously had a BBB- lowest investment grade rating, now has a junk status grade of BB. Spain began at AA- and is now at A. As with Ireland the outlook on all of these is Negative. The last of the PIIGS, Greece, did not form part of the current review and remains at the low-junk CC grade and a disorderly default is a growing possibility.
A lot of the current S&P statement explaining the decision on Ireland deals with the general eurozone environment but there are some interesting country-specific elements. Two of these are:
1. All other things being equal, we view the government's fiscal consolidation plan as sufficient to achieve a general government deficit of around 3% of GDP in 2015.
2. We expect the general government net debt burden to fall to about 103% of GDP in 2015, having peaked at 109% in 2013. Our net debt estimates include the impact of the government's €64 billion (40% of GDP) in banking sector recapitalizations during 2008-2011 and €29 billion (18% of GDP) in debt issued by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) as of end-2011.
In August they were forecasting that their measure of net debt would peak at 110% of GDP in 2013. That has now being reduced to 109% of GDP (possibly as a result of the double-counting error in the Department of Finance.) The 103% net debt/GDP for 2015 is unchanged. On the general eurozone response to the crisis they state:
1. In our opinion, the political agreement [the fiscal compact of December 9th] does not supply sufficient additional resources or operational flexibility to bolster European rescue operations, or extend enough support for those eurozone sovereigns subjected to heightened market pressures.
2. [.] we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers' rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.
The full text of the S&P statement is below the fold.
TweetLONDON (Standard & Poor's) Jan. 13, 2012--Standard & Poor's Ratings Services today affirmed the 'BBB+' long-term and 'A-2' short-term ratings on the Republic of Ireland. At the same time, we removed the long-term rating from CreditWatch with negative implications, where it was placed on Dec. 5, 2011. The outlook on the long-term ratings is negative.
Our transfer and convertibility (T&C) assessment for Ireland, as for all European Economic and Monetary Union (eurozone) members, is 'AAA', reflecting our view that the likelihood of the European Central Bank restricting nonsovereign access to foreign currency needed for debt service is extremely low. This reflects the full and open access to foreign currency that holders of euro currently enjoy and which we expect to remain the case in the foreseeable future.
The outcomes from the EU summit on Dec. 9, 2011, and subsequent statements from policymakers lead us to believe that the agreement reached has not produced a breakthrough of sufficient size and scope to fully address the eurozone's financial problems. In our opinion, the political agreement does not supply sufficient additional resources or operational flexibility to bolster European rescue operations, or extend enough support for those eurozone sovereigns subjected to heightened market pressures.
We also believe that the agreement is predicated on only a partial recognition of the source of the crisis: that the current financial turmoil stems primarily from fiscal profligacy at the periphery of the eurozone. In our view, however, the financial problems facing the eurozone are as much a consequence of rising external imbalances and divergences in competitiveness between the eurozone's core and the so-called "periphery." As such, we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers' rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.
However, we have not adjusted the political score of the Republic of Ireland down. This is a reflection of our view that the Irish government's response to the significant deterioration in its public finances and the recent crisis in the Irish financial sector has been proactive and substantive. This offsets our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of European policymaking and political institutions (with which Ireland is closely integrated) have not been strengthened so as to match the severity of the broadening and deepening financial crisis in the eurozone.
Excluding government-funded banking sector recapitalization payments, the authorities have adjusted the budget by almost €21 billion (13% of estimated 2012 GDP) since 2008 and plan additional fiscal savings of some €12.4 billion (7.8% of GDP) for 2012-2015. All other things being equal, we view the government's fiscal consolidation plan as sufficient to achieve a general government deficit of around 3% of GDP in 2015. In our view, there is currently a strong political consensus behind the fiscal consolidation program and policy implementation so far has been extremely strong. In the face of a weaker-than-expected outlook for economic growth, additional measures (€0.2 billion, 0.1% of GDP) have been introduced to meet the government's targets.
We expect the general government net debt burden to fall to about 103% of GDP in 2015, having peaked at 109% in 2013. Our net debt estimates include the impact of the government's €64 billion (40% of GDP) in banking sector recapitalizations during 2008-2011 and €29 billion (18% of GDP) in debt issued by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) as of end-2011. NAMA's purpose is to acquire, hold, and dispose of land and property; it has acquired and is now working out eligible assets from participating financial institutions. Should NAMA asset disposals progress more rapidly than our current assumption (10% of GDP over 2013-2015), the government's net debt burden could improve at a faster pace.
In our view, Ireland has a flexible and very open economy. This is illustrated by the 25% depreciation in the trade-weighted exchange rate between May 2008 and October 2011 (latest data) and by goods and services exports estimated at about 113% of GDP in 2012. Partly as a result of these factors, as well as the noncyclical nature of a substantial part of Irish exports, net export growth has contributed positively to the muted Irish economic recovery in 2011. However, in our view this also leaves the Irish economy and, ultimately, the Irish government's fiscal consolidation program, susceptible to worsening external economic conditions. This is reflected in our downside hypothetical scenario, which contemplates real GDP per capita economic growth, general government deficits, and general government net debt averaging 0.9%, 6.6%, and 114% of GDP, respectively, over the 2012-2015 period, compared with our base-case scenario of 1.7%, 6.1%, and 107%.
We have lowered our assessment of Ireland's external score. On Dec. 5, 2011, we said that this score was unlikely to change as our concerns raised with regard to a sudden stop in interbank funding had already been realized in Ireland. However, the Irish government and Irish financial institutions have not had access to the capital markets for unsecured long-term funding since early 2010. Our assessment of the sovereign's external risks has been updated to reflect this.