Tag Archives: Standard & Poor’s

Sovereign debt crisis hits record levels. Preview of United States?

A quick look at the charts shows the sovereign debt crisis has hit record levels along with European interest rates:

Greece 10-year yield:

Ireland 10-year yield:

Portugal 10-year yield:

With 10-year interest rates up at 14.9, 10.5, and 9.5 percent (and two-year rates even higher in many cases), it is hard to see how these countries can afford to pay these rates. If the United States were paying a 10% interest rate with debt about 90 percent of GDP, 9 percent of GDP and about a third of federal spending would go just to paying interest on the debt. In Greece, where debt is about 130 percent of GDP, the government is spending about 19.4 percent of GDP on interest. This is clearly unsustainable, which is why everybody expects these countries to “restructure” their debts, a euphemism for defaulting and paying back less than they owe. This expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy because it pushes rates even higher.

With the situation in the United States only marginally better, how long before rates rise here and the U.S. defaults? Best to cut spending now, when we have a choice, than later when interest rates rise and the government has to divert spending to interest payments.

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Bull-market highs but still much to fear!

The Dow Industrial and S&P 500 hit new bull-market high yesterday. Clearly, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe is over and there is nothing worry about. Or is there?

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services on Wednesday cut its long-term rating on Ireland to A-minus from A and lowered its short-term rating to A-2 from A-1. The agency said the ratings remain on CreditWatch with negative implications, where they were placed on Nov. 23. The move comes in the wake of S&P’s revised assessment of risks tied to the Irish banking industry. “Were the labor market to deteriorate further, a rise in the level of delinquencies in the domestic banks’ mortgage books could result in higher new capital requirements than we presently assume,” said S&P analyst Frank Gill. The emergence of a European framework for restructuring sovereign debt could trigger a reconsideration of Ireland’s creditworthiness, he said. The resolution of Ireland’s CreditWatch listing will likely leave the government’s ratings in an investment-grade category, Gill said. The CreditWatch placement is expected to be resolved by April, the agency said.

The recent modest improvement in the world economy has bought these “at-risk” countries some time to fix their books, but little progress has been made. Furthermore, those countries that have been applying austerity measures have not seen the economic gains others have. For example:

The UK economy shrank by a shock 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010 as Britain’s recovery from recession faltered.

Most of the unexpected contraction was caused by the wintry weather that gripped Britain last month, the Office for National Statistics said. Without it, GDP would probably have been flat – suggesting that the UK economy had already run out of steam before the snow hit.

Economists said the first estimate of GDP for the last quarter was much worse than expected, and meant that Britain could now suffer a double-dip recession. With inflation hitting 3.7% last month, there are also growing fears the UK is heading for an unpleasant dose of “stagflation”.

The eagerly awaited GDP figures put the government’s austerity programme under fresh scrutiny, with Labour again arguing that cuts are being made too deeply, and too rapidly.

Now, economists and politicians are arguing the merits and demerits of austerity. They still have not realized they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they continue to run big deficits, interest rates will rise and the country will be forced to default, send the country into economic and political chaos. If they impose austerity measure, it will certainly hurt the economy, but the country will survive.

Austerity is a painful, but necessary medicine. Politicians would rather take the placebo.

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.