Sun, Dec 18, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Fitch casts doubt on eurozone’s plans

MOODY’S, MEANWHILE:Belgium’s credit rating was downgraded by two notches on Friday over the fragile sentiment surrounding sovereign risk in the euro area

AFP, PARIS

Fitch Ratings on Friday cast doubt on the budget discipline pact European states intend to adopt being able to solve the eurozone debt crisis, and warned it may soon downgrade six countries, including Spain and Italy.

Also on Friday, Moody’s ratings agency took action against a eurozone member, downgrading Belgium’s credit rating by two notches.

Fitch also changed the outlook on France’s top triple-A rating to negative.

“Fitch has concluded that a ‘comprehensive solution’ to the eurozone crisis is technically and politically beyond reach,” following the crisis summit last week at which the pact was announced, it said.

All EU states except for Britain agreed last week to draft a strict pact with penalties to ensure they cut budget deficits and reduce their debt, aiming to get it drafted and signed by March.

While Fitch praised announcements that private bond holders would no longer be asked to accept losses in bailouts and the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund would be brought into operation sooner, it expressed concerned over the absence of a credible financial backstop.

“In Fitch’s opinion this requires more active and explicit commitment from the ECB [European Central Bank] to mitigate the risk of self-fulfilling liquidity crises for potentially illiquid but solvent Euro Area Member States (EAMS),” it said in a statement.

The ECB, strongly supported by Germany, has resisted stepping up its limited purchases of bonds of eurozone states, let alone explicitly taking on the role of a lender of last resort to governments.

While the markets have welcomed the idea of the fiscal pact to help lock in budget discipline in the medium-term, they have been looking for stepped up involvement by the ECB to calm fears that countries like Italy and Spain will be driven by high borrowing costs into needing bailouts.

“In the absence of a ‘comprehensive solution,’ the crisis will persist and likely be punctuated by episodes of severe financial market volatility,” Fitch said.

The agency warned that such market volatility “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.”

Meanwhile, Moody’s, citing too tough conditions for indebted European countries to borrow with little chance of a quick end to the eurozone crisis, cut the credit rating of Belgium by two notches, from “Aa1” to “Aa3,” with a negative outlook.

“The first driver underlying Moody’s decision to downgrade Belgium’s debt rating is the fragile sentiment surrounding sovereign risk in the euro area,” the agency said.

“The fragility of the sovereign debt markets is increasingly entrenched and unlikely to be reversed in the near future,” it said.

Fitch said it was reviewing for possible downgrade the credit ratings of six eurozone countries facing such higher risks.

Placing Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Italy, Ireland and Cyprus on Ratings Watch Negative “indicates that the above ratings are under active review and are subject to a heightened probability of downgrade in the near-term,” Fitch said.

It added that any downgrades of ratings would likely be limited to one or two notches and that it expects to make decisions by the end of next month.

While affirming France’s triple-A rating, Fitch revised its long-term outlook on the rating to “negative” from “stable”, although this does not signify the rating is under review.

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