The folk that brought you the Pearl Harbour of the global financial crisis, the credit rating agencies, are up to their old tricks again.
Britain is the latest country to wander into their gaze with reports in the London Telegraph this morning, our time, that Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s are looking at the UK’s Triple A credit rating in the wake of this week’s 2010 budget.
Rating agencies are a necessary evil, but after their starring role alongside dud regulators, greedy bankers, incompetent governments and fraudulent loan sharks, you’d think they’d have a bit of modesty. Go quiet, respectful, and apologetic for their significant contribution to the mess.
These accusations might include a failure to factor in the possibility of house prices falling in a way that would damage not only subprime mortgages of different years. But the CDOs and other derivatives created and given a tick by Fitch, moody’s and S&P and then flogged to all in sundry with those AAA ratings as they selling point (bought for, of course, for a fee).
But nope, there went Ireland, Spain Greece and Portugal — all were downgraded as the credit crunch and the recession hit exposed housing and commercial sectors. Many of those developments were done via funds raised by securities with high ratings from the same agencies.
They make the mess, and then they get to play judge and jury on the wash up of their incompetence and greed.
“Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are reviewing the UK’s rating in light of the Chancellor’s revelation in the Budget that national debt will reach £1.4 trillion over the next five years. Spain, Ireland, Greece and Portugal have already been downgraded,” The Telegraph reported.
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It wasn’t even the lead story, an 18% bounce for Conservatives leader David Cameron was. It was Mr Cameron, I’d be praying for Labour to win the next poll because the UK economic mess will worsen, despite what the Brown Government claimed in the budget). Go here to read why the UK is a basket case, and so is much of the rest of the world.
Arnaud Mares, lead analyst at Moody’s for the UK, said: “Treasury projections that public sector net borrowing will remain above 5pc of GDP five years from now… are a cause for concern. This suggests that fiscal policy will have to be tightened much further than currently envisaged. The alternative would be that the Government chooses to live with a permanently higher debt burden which would likely have rating implications over time.
A Standard & Poor’s spokesman said: “We are looking at the details of the Budget and have no comment to make at this stage.
Sources in the bond trading market claimed credit agencies were already stress-testing the UK again for a possible downgrade. “You have to assume the risk of a ratings downgrade has increased after this Budget. It is certainly much more likely than we thought a few months ago,” said John Wraith, head of rates strategy at RBC.
Last November, Frank Gill, S&P’s director of European sovereign ratings, said public debt above 60pc of GDP could undermine an AAA rating. At its peak in 2013, the Government is forecasting debt at 79pc of GDP.
Economists last night raised concerns that the Chancellor’s estimates for public borrowing over the next few years are still too low, adding to fears that the true risk of a downgrade has not been reflected in the Budget’s figures.
“A downgrade happened to Ireland and our net borrowing to GDP ratio is already approaching the levels seen there,” said Howard Archer, chief UK economist at Global Insight,” one said.
So what aren’t the rating agencies taking aim at the other basket case of international finance: the US. While it isn’t in as straitened circumstances as the UK, its heading that way with a borrowing task of over $US1 trillion and possibly as high as $US1.5 trillion this year. If it has to find more money for the US banking system after these stress tests that are about to be revealed, then more will be needed from somewhere.
This is no special pleading for Britain. It’s not that the UK doesn’t deserve punishment in global financial markets for allowing the mother of all financial crisis to develop.
But to have judgment passed by a bunch of people who helped cause the mess in the first place is very, very troubling.