Moody's Cuts Spain from A3 to Baa3; Could Be Downgraded Further

June 13, 2012 4:37 PM EDT Send to a Friend
Moody's Investors Service has today downgraded Spain's government bond rating to Baa3 from A3, and has also placed it on review for possible further downgrade. Moody's expects to conclude the review within a maximum timeframe of three months.

The decision to downgrade the Kingdom of Spain's rating reflects the following key factors:

1. The Spanish government intends to borrow up to EUR100 billion from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) or from its successor, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to recapitalise its banking system. This will further increase the country's debt burden, which has risen dramatically since the onset of the financial crisis.

2. The Spanish government has very limited financial market access, as evidenced both by its reliance on the EFSF or ESM for the recapitalisation funds and its growing dependence on its domestic banks as the primary purchasers of its new bond issues, who in turn obtain funding from the ECB.

3. The Spanish economy's continued weakness makes the government's weakening financial strength and its increased vulnerability to a sudden stop in funding a much more serious concern than would be the case if there was a reasonable expectation of vigorous economic growth within the next few years.

Moody's has today also downgraded the rating of Spain's Fondo de Reestructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB) to Baa3 from A3 and placed the rating on review for possible further downgrade, in line with the sovereign rating action. The FROB's debt is fully and unconditionally guaranteed by the government of Spain. Moreover, the provisional short-term rating of the Spanish government has today also been downgraded to (P)Prime-3 from (P)Prime-2. Similarly, FROB's short-term rating was lowered to P-3 from P-2.

The review for downgrade will focus on the outcome of the ongoing external audits of the Spanish banking system, the conditionality and details of the EFSF/ESM loan agreement, and the specific execution strategy developed for the banking system's recapitalisation. Moody's will also consider any further initiatives at the euro area level. In addition, Spain's rating -- as well as the ratings of other euro area countries -- could be adversely affected if the risk of a Greek exit from the euro area were to rise further.

RATINGS RATIONALE

The first key driver underlying Moody's three-notch downgrade of Spain's government bond rating is the government's decision to seek up to EUR100 billion of external funding from the EFSF or ESM. A formal request will be presented shortly, but the euro area finance ministers announced on 10 June their willingness to accede to that request. The sum of EUR100 billion is twice the size of Moody's previous base case estimate, and in line with the rating agency's adverse case estimate.

While the details of the support package have yet to be announced, it is clear that the responsibility for supporting Spanish banks rests with the Spanish government. EFSF funds will be lent to the government which will use them to recapitalise Spanish banks. This borrowing will materially worsen the government's debt position: Moody's now expects Spain's public debt ratio to rise to around 90% of GDP this year and to continue rising until the middle of the decade. Stabilising the ratio will be a key challenge for the Spanish authorities, requiring years of continued fiscal consolidation. As a consequence, the government's fiscal and debt position is no longer commensurate with a rating in the A range or even at the top of the Baa range.

The second driver of today's rating action is the Spanish government's very limited financial market access, as evidenced both by its reliance on the EFSF or ESM for the recapitalisation funds and its growing dependence on its domestic banks as the primary purchasers of its new bond issues, who in turn require funding from the ECB to purchase these bonds. In Moody's view, this is an unsustainable situation. In the absence of positive developments that shore up investor sentiment, such as a resumption of growth or rapid progress in achieving fiscal consolidation objectives, neither of which is likely in the current environment, the government is likely to become increasingly constrained with regard to the terms under which it is able to refinance maturing debt. If unchecked, Moody's believes that the risk of the government losing access to private debt markets on affordable terms and needing to seek direct support from the EFSF/ESM will continue to rise.

Given the experience with private-sector involvement (PSI) in Greece and the intentions expressed by euro area officials around the development of the ESM, Moody's believes that the debts of euro area sovereigns that are fully dependent upon official sources to fund their borrowing requirements represent speculative-grade risk. Support would, if needed for a sustained period, be likely to be made conditional on loss-sharing with private investors or in extremis withdrawn altogether.

Moody's action to place the government's rating one notch above speculative grade reflects the rating agency's view that Spain has moved much closer to needing to seek direct support from the EFSF/ESM, and therefore much closer to being positioned within speculative grade.

Moody's decision to leave the government's rating in investment grade reflects the underlying strength of the Spanish economy and the government's clear desire to reverse the debt trajectory through a strong fiscal consolidation programme. Moody's also acknowledges several factors that differentiate the current programme from the support packages extended to Ireland, Portugal and Greece. In particular, the size of the support package is significantly smaller than it is in the other cases. The maximum amount of EUR100 billion equates to around 10% of Spain's GDP, compared with more than 54% of GDP in the case of Ireland, 114% of GDP in Greece and 46% of GDP in Portugal. Moody's therefore also considers the issue of subordination of bondholders to the senior creditor EFSF/ESM to be less of a negative factor. Senior creditors account for 37% and 40% of total public debt in Ireland and Portugal, while the respective share in Spain is 11% (in case the maximum amount was drawn).

FOCUS OF THE RATING REVIEW

Moody's has today also placed Spain's Baa3 government bond rating on review for possible further downgrade in order to assess the implications of several factors on the Spanish government's ability to continue to fund its borrowing requirements in the private debt markets. These factors are as follows:

- The clarification of the remaining open questions regarding the size and terms of the banking support package.

- The ultimate size of the government's liability following the results of the independent valuations and audits of all the Spanish banks, which are expected on 31 July.

- Any further initiative at the euro-area level, in particular those relating to steps towards a fiscal and banking union.

- The impact of the banking support package on Spain's ability to restore market confidence in the banking sector and by extension in the government bond market.


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