By Ben Livesey and Cordell Eddings – Feb 14, 2012 2:15 AM GMT+0000
Moody’s Investors Service cut the debt ratings of six European countries including Italy, Spain and Portugal and said it may strip France and the U.K. of their top Aaa ratings, citing Europe’s debt crisis.
Spain was downgraded to A3 from A1 yesterday, Italy to A3 from A2 and Portugal to Ba3 from Ba2, all with negative outlooks. Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta also had their ratings lowered.
“Policy makers have made steps forward but we do not think they have done enough to reassure the market that we are on a stable path,” said Alistair Wilson, chief credit officer for Europe at Moody’s in London. “What will guide long-term ratings is the clarity and the performance of policy makers and the macro picture.”
The euro weakened while U.S. equity futures retreated. The yen gained 0.2 percent against the euro as of 9:39 a.m. in Tokyo. The euro slipped 0.2 percent to $1.3167. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures lost 0.1 percent after the stock benchmark climbed 0.7 percent yesterday.
“The uncertainty over the euro area’s prospects for institutional reform of its fiscal and economic framework,” and the resources that will be made available to deal with the crisis, are among the main drivers of Moody’s action, the ratings company said.
Recent rating cuts have done little to deter investors, who poured money into the government bonds of nations such as France and Austria even after the countries lost their AAA ratings at Standard & Poor’s last month. U.S. Treasuries returned three times as much as AAA corporate bonds since the world’s biggest economy was cut by one rank in August.
Moody’s yesterday also lowered its outlook on Austria’s Aaa rating to negative. Malta’s rating was downgraded to A3 from A2, and Slovakia and Slovenia were both downgraded to A2 from A1. All three were given negative outlooks.
Moody’s said Europe’s “increasingly weak macroeconomic prospects” threaten the “implementation of domestic austerity programs and the structural reforms that are needed to promote competitiveness.” It said market confidence “is likely to remain fragile, with a high potential for further shocks to funding conditions for stressed sovereigns and banks.”
U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said his fiscal consolidation program is the only thing stopping Britain from an immediate downgrade.
“This is proof that, in the current global situation, Britain cannot waver from dealing with its debts,” Osborne said in an e-mailed statement released by the Treasury in London yesterday.
French Finance Minister Francois Baroin said the country’s AAA rating was maintained by Moody’s because of “the size of its economy” and its “increased productivity.”
Baroin’s comments were included in an e-mailed statement from the Finance Ministry after Moody’s downgraded the rating outlook to negative.
Germany and the European Commission yesterday welcomed Greek approval of the austerity steps demanded for a financial lifeline, suggesting euro finance chiefs will pull Greece back from the brink when they meet tomorrow.
The Greek parliament’s backing “is a crucial step forward toward the adoption of the second program,” EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters in Brussels. “I’m confident that the other conditions, including for instance the identification of the concrete measures of 325 million euros ($430 million), will be completed by the next meeting” of finance ministers.
Euro-area finance chiefs will convene in Brussels for their second extraordinary meeting on Greece in a week. Frustrated after two years of missed budget targets, ministers declined to ratify the 130 billion-euro package in a special session on Feb. 9, demanding that Greek officials put their verbal commitments into law.
“It’s important for now to complete this program,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin. “The finance ministers will meet again on Wednesday to undertake the work on this, but there can’t and there won’t be any changes to the program.”