Fitch: big euro fix “technically and politically beyond reach”

FT Alphaville

Following the EU Summit on 9-10 December, Fitch has concluded that a ‘comprehensive solution’ to the eurozone crisis is technically and politically beyond reach…

That’s the rather deadpan punchline of a Fitch Ratings action on Friday, placing the ratings of Belgium, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Spain on negative outlook. They might be downgraded one or two notches early in 2012. They’re putting every investment-grade eurozone sovereign on negative outlook so expect a few more supplementary statements. Fitch had affirmed France’s AAA rating but revised it to negative at pixel time. (Update — see text below.)

Here’s the main bit from the statement:

Following the EU Summit on 9-10 December, Fitch has concluded that a ‘comprehensive solution’ to the eurozone crisis is technically and politically beyond reach. Despite positive commitments by EU leaders at the Summit, notably the decision to accelerate the creation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and to place less emphasis on private sector involvement (PSI), the concerns held by Fitch prior to the Summit remain pressing and have not been materially eased by the Summit outcome (also see, ‘Summit Does Little To Ease Pressure on eurozone Sovereign Debt,’ 12 December). Of particular concern is the absence of a credible financial backstop. In Fitch’s opinion this requires more active and explicit commitment from the ECB to mitigate the risk of self-fulfilling liquidity crises for potentially illiquid but solvent Euro Area Member States (EAMS).

Fitch recognises that the policy authorities in all of the countries with sovereign ratings subject to review have embarked upon significant fiscal consolidation and structural reform and these efforts will be taken into account in the review. However, the systemic nature of the eurozone crisis is having a profoundly adverse effect on economic and financial stability across the region and for some EAMS poses near-term risks that are beginning to dominate the sovereign-specific risk fundamentals. Today’s announcement is focused on those sovereigns that are potentially vulnerable to the worsening external economic and financial environment as indicated by previous negative rating actions and rating Outlooks.

The RWN is prompted by the following risk factors:

– In the absence of greater clarity on the ultimate structure of a fundamentally reformed Economic and Monetary Union and the recognition by political leaders of the potential for an EAMS to leave the eurozone, Fitch will review its assessment of the balance of risks associated with eurozone membership, especially for sovereigns potentially subject to funding stresses.

– While acknowledging the extraordinary measures the ECB has adopted to provide liquidity to the European banking sector, its continued reluctance to countenance a similar degree of support to its sovereign shareholders undermines the efforts by EAMS to put in place a credible financial ‘firewall’ against contagion and self-fulfilling liquidity and even solvency crises.

– The intensification of the eurozone crisis since July constitutes a significant negative shock to the region’s economy and the stability of its financial sector with potentially adverse consequences for sovereign credit profiles across the region, most immediately for those placed on RWN today.

– In the absence of a ‘comprehensive solution’, the crisis will persist and likely be punctuated by episodes of severe financial market volatility that is a particular source of risk to the sovereign governments of those countries with levels of public debt, contingent liabilities and fiscal and financial sector financing needs that are high relative to rating peers.

Friday’s other ratings rumour – that S&P is about to downgrade France – isn’t going away either.

Update — key bit of Fitch revising France to negative:

The Negative Outlook is prompted by the heightened risk of contingent liabilities to the French state arising from the worsening economic and financial situation across the Eurozone, as reflected in the Rating Watch Negative placed on the sovereign ratings of several Euro Area Member States (EAMS) on 16 December 2011. As Fitch commented in its report on 23 November, ‘French Public Finances’, the fiscal space to absorb further adverse shocks without undermining its ‘AAA’ status has largely been exhausted…

Relative to other ‘AAA’ Euro Area Member States, France is in Fitch’s judgement the most exposed to a further intensification of the crisis. It has a larger structural budget deficit and higher government debt burden relative to Euro Area ‘AAA’ peers. Moreover, relative to non-Euro Area ‘AAA’ peers, notably the US (‘AAA’/Negative Outlook) and the UK (‘AAA’/Stable Outlook), the risk from contingent liabilities from an intensification of the Eurozone crisis is greater in light of its commitments to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), as well as indirectly from French banks that are less strong than previously assessed as reflected in recent negative rating actions by Fitch.

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