More fireworks from the ratings agencies today after they downgraded the EFSF to AA+ from AAA. The ratings agencies have consistently made headlines throughout this crisis and despite brief market turmoil, their moves have turned out to be fairly unimportant. I don’t think this event will be taken too differently. The press release follows from S&P:
“European Financial Stability Facility Long-Term Ratings Cut To ‘AA+’; Short-Term Ratings Affirmed; Outlook Developing
Publication date: 16-Jan-2012 13:14:31 EST
- On Jan. 13, 2012, we lowered to ‘AA+’ the long-term sovereign credit ratings on two of the European Financial Stability Facility’s (EFSF’s) previously ‘AAA’ rated guarantor member states, France and Austria.
- The EFSF’s obligations are no longer fully supported either by guarantees from EFSF members rated ‘AAA’ by Standard & Poor’s, or by ‘AAA’ rated securities. We consider that credit enhancements sufficient to offset what we view as the reduced creditworthiness of guarantors are currently not in place.
- We are therefore lowering our long-term issuer credit rating on the EFSF to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA’. We are also affirming the ‘A-1+’ short-term rating on EFSF.
- The outlook is developing, which reflects that we could raise the EFSF’s long-term rating to ‘AAA’ if we see that additional credit enhancements are put in place, but also the likelihood that we could lower the rating further if we conclude that the creditworthiness of the EFSF’s members will likely be further reduced over the next two years.
LONDON (Standard & Poor’s) Jan. 16, 2012–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services today lowered the ‘AAA’ long-term issuer credit rating on the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA’ and affirmed the short-term issuer credit rating at ‘A-1+’. We removed the ratings from CreditWatch, where they had been placed with negative implications on Dec. 6, 2011. The outlook is developing.
When we announced the placement of the ratings on the EFSF on CreditWatch on Dec. 6, 2011, we said that, depending on the outcome of our review of the ratings of the EFSF’s guarantor member sovereigns, we would likely align the issue and issuer credit ratings on the EFSF with those of the lowest issuer rating we assigned to the EFSF members we rated ‘AAA’ (as of Dec. 6, 2011), unless we saw that sufficient credit enhancements were in place to maintain the EFSF rating at ‘AAA’ (see “European Financial Stability Facility Long-Term ‘AAA’ Rating Placed On CreditWatch Negative,” published Dec. 6, 2011).
On Jan. 13, 2012, we announced rating actions on 16 members of the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU or eurozone; see “Standard & Poor’s Takes Various Rating Actions On 16 Eurozone Sovereign Governments,” Jan. 13, 2012). We lowered to ‘AA+’ the long-term ratings on two of the EFSF’s previously ‘AAA’ rated guarantor members, France and Austria. The outlook on the long-term ratings on France and Austria is negative, indicating that we believe that there is at least a one-in-three chance that we will lower the ratings again in 2012 or 2013. We affirmed the ratings on the other ‘AAA’ rated EFSF members: Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands.
Following the lowering of the ratings on France and Austria, the rated long-term debt instruments already issued by the EFSF are no longer fully supported by guarantees from the EFSF guarantor members rated ‘AAA’ by Standard & Poor’s, or ‘AAA’ rated liquid securities. Instead, they are now covered by guarantees from guarantor members or securities rated ‘AAA’ or ‘AA+’.
We consider that credit enhancements that would offset what we view as the now-reduced creditworthiness of the EFSF’s guarantors and securities backing the EFSF’s issues are currently not in place. We have therefore lowered to ‘AA+’ the issuer credit rating of the EFSF, as well as the issue ratings on its long-term debt securities.
The developing outlook on the long-term rating reflects the likelihood we currently see that we may either raise or lower the ratings over the next two years.
We understand that EFSF member states may currently be exploring credit-enhancement options. If the EFSF adopts credit enhancements that in our view are sufficient to offset its now-reduced creditworthiness, in particular if we see that once again the EFSF’s long-term obligations are fully supported by guarantees from EFSF member-guarantors rated ‘AAA’ or by securities rated ‘AAA’, we would likely raise the EFSF’s long-term ratings to ‘AAA’.
Conversely, if we were to conclude that sufficient offsetting credit enhancements are, in our opinion, not likely to be forthcoming, we would likely change the outlook to negative to mirror the negative outlooks of France and Austria. Under those circumstances we would expect to lower the ratings on the EFSF if we lowered the long-term sovereign credit ratings on the EFSF’s ‘AAA’ or ‘AA+’ rated members to below ‘AA+’.”
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.