Tag Archives: Bond credit rating

Two more downgrades. Sovereign debt crisis continues.

First:

Hungary faces the risk of further downgrades of its credit rating after Fitch Thursday cut Hungary’s sovereign debt by one notch to BBB-.

The risk of a further downgrade of Hungary’s credit rating could increase in case of further intensification of the euro area crisis, said Citigroup economist Piotr Kalisz. Citi doesn’t expect a downgrade to non-investment grade in the near term, but markets could start pricing in such a risk especially if the government fails to present a credible fiscal adjustment plan.

Although the downgrade came as no surprise, the forint reacted by weakening to the euro. Fitch followed Moody’s Investors Service Inc. and Standard & Poor’s Corp. in putting Hungary’s rating to one grade above junk.

Second:

Fitch Ratings on Thursday downgraded Portugal’s credit rating to A+ from AA-. The agency also downgraded Portugal’s short-term currency rating to F1 from F1+. The Associated Press said that Fitch cited a slow reduction in Portugal’s deficit and a tougher financing environment as reasons for the downgrade. The euro bought $1.3098, an improvement from earlier in the U.S. session, and slightly up from late Wednesday.

Anybody think the sovereign debt crisis is over?

Europe burns! CDS imply 7 to 11 notch credit downgrades. Belgium and France to join the sovereign debt crisis?

First Greece. Then Ireland. Next may be Portugal and Spain. Some are talking about Italy as well. As the sovereign debt crisis spreads through Europe, it is working its way up the food chain. Now, some are talking about Belgium and France too:

France risks losing its top AAA grade as Europe’s debt crisis prompts a wave of downgrades that threatens to engulf the region’s highest-rated borrowers, with Belgium also facing a possible cut.

Moody’s Investors Service said Dec. 15 it may lower Spain’s rating, citing “substantial funding requirements,” and slashed Ireland’s rating by five levels on Dec. 17. Standard & Poor’s is reviewing its assessments of Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Costs to insure French government debt rose to a record today with the country’s credit default swaps more expensive than lower-rated securities from the Czech Republic and Chile.

Costs to insure French government debt trebled this year, reaching an all-time high of 105.5 today, according to data provider CMA. Credit default swaps tied to Czech securities were little changed at 90 basis points and Chilean swaps ended last week at 89.

The credit default swaps tied to the French bonds imply a rating of Baa1, seven steps below its actual top ranking of Aaa at Moody’s, according to the New York-based firm’s capital markets research group.

Contracts on Portugal imply a B2 rating, 10 levels below its A1 grade, while swaps tied to Spanish bonds trade at Ba3, 11 steps below its Aa1 ranking, data from the Moody’s research group show. Derivatives protecting Belgian debt imply a rating of Ba1, nine steps below its current rating of Aa1.

This is eerily familiar. The credit rating agencies gave overly optimistic ratings to collateralized mortgage obligations (portfolios of mortgages) and were then slow to downgrade them. Now, they are making the same mistake on an international level.

What do you think would happen if the credit rating agencies recognized reality and downgraded these countries to where the market believes they should be? The markets would crash. That’s why they are avoiding the painful truth.

However, the credit rating agencies and governments can only deny reality for so long. Eventually, they will have to recognize the truth. The market will force the credit rating agencies to downgrade sovereign debt whether they want to or not. The market will force countries to restructure their welfare state systems or force them into bankruptcy.

I pray that this is done sooner rather than later. It will be painful. Extremely painful. There will be riots in the street as we are already seeing. But it is better to bear the cost now when the situation is still manageable, just barely so, than when all chances of saving western civilization are gone and nations descend into anarchy and tyranny.

Irish Credit Rating Crashes

Just yesterday, somebody told me the Irish credit problem has been solved. With the market indexes trading at or near two-year highs, that would seem to be the case.

But then we get news that Moody’s cuts Irish credit rating by five notches:

Moody’s Investors Service said Friday it has cut its rating on Irish government bonds by five notches to Baa1 from Aa2. The credit rating agency said the outlook for the rating is negative. The downgrade comes after the agency said in November that the most likely outcome for Ireland’s credit rating was a multi-notch downgrade that would leave it within the investment-grade category. “Ireland’s sovereign creditworthiness has suffered from the repeated crystallization of bank related contingent liabilities on the government’s balance sheet,” said Dietmar Hornung, lead analyst for Ireland. As well as the cost of supporting the banking sector, Moody’s said the increased uncertainty over the country’s economic outlook and the decline in the Irish government’s financial strength contributed to the downgrade.

OUCH! Ireland’s credit rating drops 5 notches and the outlook is still negative, which means Moody’s could downgrade it even further.

The sovereign debt crisis is far from over.

Portugal and Spain deny need for aid, but it doesn’t matter what they think or say.

Even if the MSM and government officials did not see this coming, you and I certainly did.  Marketwatch reports:

Portuguese and Spanish officials scrambling Friday to head off speculation that Lisbon or Madrid could soon be forced to seek help to meet their borrowing needs.

A spokesman for the Portuguese government said a report in the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper — that Lisbon was under pressure from the European Central Bank and a majority of euro-zone countries to seek a bailout in order to ease pressure on Spain — was “totally false,” news reports said.

Meanwhile, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in a radio interview that he “absolutely” ruled out a rescue for Spain, saying the nation’s deficit-reduction measures were well under way and that the economy, while still weak, has touched bottom.

OK, so Portugal and Spain continue to deny their need for a bailout or loans from the EU or IMF. Nothing new there. But the market disagrees:

The yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Spanish bonds over German bunds widened to a record 2.63 percentage points as Spain’s 10-year yield continued to climb above 5.10%.

The cost of protecting Portuguese and other peripheral euro-zone sovereign debt against default through credit default swaps, or CDS, continued to rise.

The spread on five-year Portuguese CDS widened by 20 basis points to 500 basis points, according to data provider Markit. That means it would cost $500,000 annually to insure $10 million of Portuguese debt against default for five years, up from $480,000 on Thursday.

The euro fell to a two-month low versus the dollar to change hands at $1.3236 in recent action.

Portugal, with 10-year bond yields above 7%, was long seen as the next most likely candidate to seek a bailout after Ireland. Borrowing costs under the EFSF are seen at around 5% to 6% over three years.

Uh oh! As I wrote in a previous post:

Spain, Portugal, and Italy may not be in trouble, but if people start thinking they are “at risk,” they’ll withdraw their funds and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Technically speaking, Portugal and Spain may not need help right now, but they will most certainly need help if interest rates rise too much. But the report continues:

News reports, meanwhile, said that Germany this week rejected a suggestion by the European Commission to double the size of Europe’s 440 billion euro ($588 billion) bailout fund for euro-zone governments. The euro-zone contribution is part of the total €750 billion rescue program put in place with the International Monetary Fund in the spring.

Will Europe be willing and able to bail out Spain if it comes to that? Germany appears to be having second thoughts. Why should Germany waste its money bailing out another country? More so, how much money did Spain contribute to the bailouts of Greece and Ireland as part of the EU, money it no longer has to fix its own problems? Germany may want to keep its cash just in case it needs it.

In fact, Germany is one of the best fiscal situations in the entire world. Yet even it is balking. As Margaret Thatcher reported said, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Ireland and Greece have used up much of Europe’s money and good will. Now, there is a lot less left for Portugal and Spain.

Good luck Europe.

Ireland gets its bailout. You ain’t seen nothing yet!

So Ireland finally got its bailout. I discuss the true cost of the bailout here and how this is only a temporary solution here.

Focus has now shifted to Portugal and Spain. Ireland is a country with just 4.5 million people, whereas Portugal has 11.3 million and Spain has 46.0 million. People are now guessing at how big their bailout will be if they are needed.

According to The Telegraph:

Analysts estimate that a Portuguese bail-out might require less than euro 50 billion, less than the sum lent to Greece or Ireland. But rescuing Spain from crisis would require a much bigger sum.

Cornelia Meyer, CEO & Chairman, MRL Corporation, told CNBC Monday:

She predicted that a Spanish bailout would likely cost up to 500 billion euros; but there is no “real mechanism” to deal with it, Meyer added.

While a bailout of Portugal would likely be small, a bailout of Spain would be five times greater than that of Ireland.

One thing analysts are forgetting is that the PIIGS also includes Italy. If Italy, with it 60.4 million people, needs a bailout, it could eclipse Spain’s total. Nobody is talking about bailout for Italy, but nobody was talking about bailouts for Spain and Portugal just months ago. If Spain and Portugal take bailouts, focus will then shift to Italy.

If all five PIIGS need bailouts, we are talking about well over a trillion Euros. Good thing money grows on trees.

If this story sounds familiar, it should. It is eerily similar to the US banking crisis in 2008. First Bear Stearns went bankrupt. An isolated case. Then Lehman Brothers. OK, a second special situation. Next was AIG. Then Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and the rest suddenly needed help from the government. BofA, Wells Fargo, etc. may not have been in real trouble when the whole thing started. Instead, it was an old fashion bank run where depositors/investors get their money back because they don’t trust the banks and banking system. Now we are seeing the same thing in Europe. Ireland didn’t need a bailout… until last week when depositors withdrew billions of dollars from Irish banks. Today, Spain, Portugal, and Italy may not be in trouble, but if people start thinking they are “at risk,” they’ll withdraw their funds and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And all the bailouts in the world won’t end this madness until these countries get their fiscal and monetary houses in order. Until then, the sovereign debt crisis will spread from one country to another.

Ireland gets its bailout. Now who will bail out the rest of the world?

So Ireland got its bailout. Marketwatch reports:

After weeks of insisting that it didn’t need a bailout, the Irish government said late Sunday that it will start formal negotiations with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund over a financial rescue package.

The United Kingdom and Sweden have also indicated that they are ready to consider loans.

Earlier in the day, Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had declined to specify a total figure for the bailout except to say that it would be less than 100 billion euros ($136.7 billion).

The Irish government will put forward a strategy to provide details of €6 billion of fiscal consolidation in 2011 in order to cut the country’s deficit to 3% of gross domestic product by 2014. An overall consolidation of €15 billion is expected to be achieved over the four years to 2014. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen detailed in a press conference that spending cuts of €10 billion and tax increases of €5 billion are expected to make up the total amount.

Additionally:

Ireland’s banks will be pruned down, merged or sold as part of a massive EU-IMF bailout taking shape, the government said Monday as a shellshocked nation came to grips with its failure to protect and revive its banks under its own powers.

But the story is far from over.

First:

A “multi-notch downgrade” of Ireland’s Aa2 rating is now the “most likely” outcome of a review of the nation’s sovereign-credit rating, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday in its weekly credit outlook. Such a downgrade would leave Ireland’s rating within the investment-grade category, the agency said. Ireland on Sunday applied for a European Union-International Monetary Fund aid package that is expected to be used to make direct capital injections into the nation’s banks. While the move is positive for the standalone credit quality of the banks, it will shift the burden of support to the Irish government, underline bank-contingent liabilities on the government balance sheet and increase the sovereign’s debt burden, the agency said, “a credit negative for Ireland and, consequently, the credit quality of bank deposits and debt that the sovereign explicitly and implicitly supports.”

And:

Ireland’s Green Party, the junior partner in the coalition government, on Monday said the nation needs to hold a general election in the second half of January, according to Irish state broadcaster RTE. Party Leader John Gormley said he had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Brian Cowen. Gormley said the government needs to produce a credible four-year plan, deliver a 2011 budget and secure funding support from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Gormley said people felt misled and betrayed and that the Irish people need political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months, RTE reported.

But Ireland is just the tip of the iceberg. Or maybe Greece was the tip and Ireland is the rest of the above-water portion of the iceberg. But remember, 90 precent of the iceberg lies underwater. Any way:

Any deal between the Irish government and the European Union and International Monetary Fund to resolve Ireland’s financial crisis is ultimately aimed at cutting short the turmoil in sovereign bond markets that policy makers fear could one day price Portugal or even Spain out of global credit markets.

Portugal, which like Ireland is a small economy with a relatively illiquid debt market, is seen as the next country likely to find itself in the sights of bond traders.

Traders and analysts had hoped that a bailout of Ireland would settle credit default fears, but it has done no such thing. Just look at the stock market today which is down about 100 points. Now that Ireland has been bailed out, instead of jumping for joy, traders are turning their attention to Portugal and Spain, wondering not if but how long until they too need bailing out.

And the sovereign debt crisis continues… Just as I predicted months ago.

Congressman Warns ‘We’re Greece’ in a Few Years

Part 10 on the sovereign debt crisis. CNBC reports:

If the US government doesn’t act soon to reduce the deficit and debt, it will become like Greece in a few years, Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-N.H.), told CNBC Wednesday.

“This nation is on a course where if we don’t do something about it, get federal situation, the fiscal policy [under control], we’re Greece. We’re a banana republic,” said Gregg.

“Our status as a nation is threatened by what we’ve got coming at us in the area of deficit and debt. And it’s only a few more years, at the most, that we have to work with here before the market says, ‘Sorry, your currency is something we can not continue to defend.’ ”

“You’ve gone from 20 percent of GDP to 24 percent of GDP headed toward 28 percent of GDP. That has to be brought under control or basically we’re going to bankrupt the country.”

The sovereign debt crisis is not just a European problem. The US is deep in debt and many US states are on the verge of default and have already resorted to issuing IOUs. Remember, this crisis began in Greece. It then spread to Spain and Portugal. Now Ireland is even worse than Greece was before the EU bailed them out. We should not assume that the crisis will magically end today for no apparent reason. This crisis will get worse until the infected countries, which is most of them, solves the problem. The sovereign debt crisis will remain as long as economic growth remains slow, debt remains high, deficits remain large, and government remains larger than it ought to. In other words, this sovereign debt crisis will be with us for a while.

Irish bond premiums higher than Greece’s before its bailout. Sovereign debt crisis continues.

Lost in all the news of the election and quantitative easing, the sovereign debt crisis is getting worse. Marketwatch reports:

Investors are dumping bonds in Ireland and Greece in a reprise of the sovereign debt crisis that shook global markets six months ago, as political infighting threatens to stymie budget reforms in the most debt-strapped countries.

On Tuesday, Irish credit costs surged to a record high and bond prices tumbled, after the reported resignation of Jim McDaid, a member of parliament for Ireland’s Fianna Fail party, added to worries the government would fail to muster the votes for planned spending cuts and tax hikes totalling 15 billion euros ($21 billion.)

Credit-default spreads for Irish sovereign debt jumped 22 basis points to 5.20 percentage points, and hit 5.30 percentage points, a record high, said Markit. The gain means it costs about $520,000 a year to buy five years of default insurance for $10 million in Irish government debt.

The surge in Irish credit fears was echoed in higher costs to buy protection on debt of other so-called “PIIGS” countries. Greek CDS widened 15 basis points to 8.45 percentage points, while Portuguese CDS gained 8 basis points to 4.02 percentage points. One basis point is 1/100 of a percentage point.

Ireland’s 10-year bonds tumbled, sending yields up 19 basis points to 7.17% and further widening the gap with benchmark German bonds, which yielded 2.47%.

Yields on 10-year Greek government bonds surged 10 basis points to 10.67%. Selloffs in Greek and Portuguese debt were in full force last week when their governments’ own budget initiatives came into doubt.

Bloomberg takes a more dismal outlook of the situation:

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan may have just one month to stave off an international bailout.

The extra yield that investors demand to hold Irish 10-year bonds over German bunds surged to a record today as Lenihan tries to put together a 2011 budget by Dec. 7 that convinces investors he can get the country’s finances in order.

The premium on Irish bonds has doubled since August and is now wider than the spread on Greek debt four days before it sought a European Union-led bailout in April. That’s putting pressure on Lenihan to cut the deficit and overcome both an economic slump and the rising cost of bailing out the country’s banks.

This is huge, but nobody is talking about it. “The premium on Irish bonds has doubled since August and is now wider than the spread on Greek debt four days before it sought a European Union-led bailout in April.” Ireland can fall apart at any minute but the market and media is totally ignoring it. Forewarned is forearmed.

Sovereign debt crisis spreading to first world countries.

I’ve written about the sovereign debt crisis numerous times already. See here, here, here, here, and here. But so far, I’ve only written about those “at-risk” countries such as Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland or individual states such as Illinois. In other words, the sovereign debt crisis has so far been limited to “small” countries or states. Debt defaults among these countries or states certainly would cause problems and a sharp decline in financial markets, but likely wouldn’t break the bank. But if this crisis spreads to larger, more financially important countries, it would obviously have a much larger impact, possibly one similar to the stock market crash of 1929.

Marketwatch reports that the sovereign debt crisis may in fact be spreading to a first world nation:

There’s no ‘B’ in PIIGS, but Belgium could eventually cause headaches of its own for the euro zone if a bitter and protracted political fight prevents the country from hitting its deficit-reduction targets.

Belgium, in northern Europe, has seemed an unlikely candidate for sovereign-debt troublemaker. From a fiscal perspective, the country, whose capital Brussels is the home of the vast EU bureaucracy, has been associated more with the so-called core of the euro zone than the troubled “periphery.”

But an increasingly bitter political divide along linguistic lines has left Belgium without a government since April and is beginning to raise some concerns.

Belgium, which has enjoyed solid growth, appears on track to reduce its budget deficit to 4.8% of gross domestic product this year from 5.6% in 2009, economists said. The nation’s deficit is among the lowest in the euro zone and compares well with other core countries, including Germany at 4.5% of GDP, France at 8% and the Netherlands at 6%.

But if a government isn’t formed soon, the 2011 fiscal target of a reduction to 4.1% could be in jeopardy, said Philippe Ledent, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels. That in turn would make it all the more difficult for Belgium to meet its target of bringing its deficit down to 3% of GDP, the EU limit, in 2012.

In reality, a 4.1%, 4.8%, or 5.6% don’t seem too bad, especially considering the 10.6% deficit here in the US for 2010 and 8.3% deficit expected for 2011.

Belgium’s deficit figures raise few alarms, but government debt stands at around 100% of GDP, which compares more closely with Greece and Italy.

U.S. debt, by comparison, also stands at about 100% of GDP.

The financial markets are starting to notice Belgium’s problem:

Belgium has had no problems selling its government bonds. Borrowing costs have risen, however, with the yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Belgian debt over benchmark German bunds standing at around 0.8 percentage point, up from around 0.4 percentage point around the same time last year.

But borrowing costs are far from problematic, Ledent said. Belgium’s premium remains nowhere near comparable to Spain’s, for example, which is at around 1.6 percentage points, much less Ireland’s at around 4 percentage points.

The cost of insuring Belgian debt against default is up sharply since the April elections, but well off the peak seen in mid-June. The spread on five-year sovereign credit-default swaps was at 119 basis points last Thursday, according to data provider CMA. That means it would cost $119,000 a year to insure $10 million of Belgian government debt against default for five years.

The spread stood at around 60 basis points in mid-April before the latest round of political turmoil and peaked at 149 basis points in late June.

“Up to now, there has been no strong impact [on borrowing costs], but I’m not sure it will continue like that,” Ledent said. “If in two, three, four months we still don’t have any government, financial markets will consider that we won’t reach the [budget] target and then there could be an impact on the spread.”

How long can countries like Belgium or the United States continue to borrow at low interest rates? These are countries with deficits exceeding 4% of GDP, in Belgium’s case, or 8-10%, in the United States, with debts equal to 100% of GDP. Logic tells us that in these countries, either taxes have to rise significantly or government spending has to fall sharply. Neither Belgium nor the U.S. is doing much to reduce their deficits and even less to cut government spending. Both countries, along with all other nations, are hoping for and relying on an economic recovery to lift their finances. What if we enter another recession? What if the recovery is slower than they expect, as it has been so far? All this talk of deficit reduction will be gone and we’ll be looking at even larger deficits and debt levels.

Worse yet, what happens when investors demand higher interest rates? As mentioned above, Belgium is already paying an extra 0.4% interest on its debt. That does not sound like much, but with government debt at 100% of GDP, the deficit increases by 0.4% just from the interest payment. This is an additional cost on government at a time when it needs to reduce its costs. It increases the deficit just as the country is trying to reduce it. Furthermore, this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: worries of a debt crisis will cause a country’s interest payment to rise and deficit to increase, thus increasing the chances of a crisis.

So I will repeat what I’ve written many times: The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning.

Are individual states following Europe down into the debt crisis?

While the United States appears to be safe from the sovereign debt crisis hitting Europe, at least for now, individual states may be following Europe down the hole. In fact, some states may even be leading the way. According to Bloomberg:

Illinois capital-markets director John Sinsheimer and Citigroup Inc. bankers took a globe-girdling trip from the U.K. to China in June to persuade investors that the state’s $900 million of Build America Bonds were a bargain.

The seven-country visit worked. The state sold one-fifth of the federally subsidized securities abroad the next month, tapping investors who are the fastest-growing source of borrowed cash for U.S. municipalities. Illinois, with the lowest credit rating of any state from Moody’s Investors Service, dangled yields higher than Mexico, which defaulted on debt in 1982, and Portugal, which costs more to insure against missed payments.

Somehow, I didn’t see this story on the front page of the newspaper or on the evening news. As the whole world focuses “basket-case” countries like Portugal and Mexico, some of our own states have lower credit ratings and are paying higher interest rates as a result. Illinois is, of course, much smaller than Mexico but it’s about the same size as Portugal. The two are actually quite similar from a political-economic standpoint. Illinois is part of a larger union, the United States, while Portugal is part of the European Union. Neither controls is own currency and neither can devalue its currency to forestall default. It remains to be seen if the EU would bail out Portugal were it to face default and it also remains to be seen if the US would bail out Illinois or other states were it to be in the same situation.

I am not yet proposing that Illinois is as much of a risk to the global financial system as Portugal. But rating agencies and investors already see Illinois as more likely to default on its debt. Yet the media and politicians are covering up this story, pretending that things are good here in the US when they are far from.