UPDATE: Cyprus downgraded too — see below.
Just last Friday, Moody’s warned:
Although the government retains access to private markets, reliance on any form of external support, even indirect support targeted at banks in order to relieve the burden of support for the banking system, indicates increasing financial strain, and suggest that the likelihood of the government needing to seek more direct support from the EFSF and/or ESM at some point over the next year is rising. …
We will be reviewing the implications of the increasing pressures on the Spanish government shortly and will take any further rating action we feel is necessary to reflect the increased risk to creditors of the Spanish government needing to seek external support.
Given what happened the very next day, when Spain submitted its request for funds to bail out its banks (and, especially, how investors have reacted in the days since), we probably shouldn’t be surprised by the release that just came out:
London, 13 June 2012 — 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. …
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. …
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).
And here is the Cyprus announcement:
London, 13 June 2012 — Moody’s Investors Service has today downgraded Cyprus’s government bond ratings by two notches to Ba3 from Ba1, and has placed the ratings on review for further possible downgrade.
The key driver for today’s rating action is the material increase in the likelihood of a Greek exit from the euro area, and the resulting increase in the likely amount of support that the government may have to extend to Cypriot banks. The two-notch downgrade reflects Moody’s assessment that this risk is exacerbated by the fact that the country’s finances are already strained and access to the international markets is still denied.
Moody’s decision to maintain Cyprus’s sovereign bond ratings on review for further downgrade reflects the need to assess the substantial downside risks to the banking sector and the sovereign as a result of a Greek euro exit. These risks have the potential to rise in the aftermath of the Greek elections on 17 June 2012.
The key driver of Moody’s two-notch downgrade of Cyprus’s government bond rating is the significant deterioration in the country’s outlook as a result of the material increase in the likelihood of a Greek exit from the euro area. The immediate result is a further increase in the likely amount of government support that the Cypriot banks may require due to their exposure to the Greek government and economy as well as the deterioration in domestic macroeconomic conditions.
Moody’s prior Ba1 rating for Cyprus incorporated an assumption that the Cypriot government would need to contribute capital support equivalent to around 5-10% of GDP to the country’s banks. The rating agency now expects this to be materially higher. For Cyprus Popular Bank alone, Moody’s expects most, if not all, of the €1.8 billion in recapitalisation costs to be borne by the government, which will increase debt levels by just over 10 percentage points of GDP.
Moody’s has reflected the increased risks emanating from the increased likelihood of a Greek exit in the ratings of the three largest Cypriot banks, two of which were downgraded on 12 June 2012, with all banks being placed on review for further downgrade. The close linkage between the government and the banking sector means that these increased risks for the banks may lead to much larger recapitalisation costs to the government, and Moody’s needs to reflect these in the Cypriot sovereign’s ratings.