It's Official: France Cut To AA+ From AAA By S&P, Outlook Negative

Today's worst kept secret just hit the wires, as S&P announces that it has officially downgraded France

  • FRANCE CUT TO AA+ FROM AAA BY S&P, OUTLOOK NEGATIVE
  • "we believe that there is at least a one-in-three chance that we could lower the  rating further in 2012 or 2013"
  • "we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating,"

One notch, but the negative outlook means a future downgrade is likely.

Full statement below:

France's Unsolicited Long-Term Ratings Lowered To 'AA+'; Outlook Negative

Overview

  • Standard & Poor's is lowering its unsolicited long-term sovereign credit rating on the Republic of France to 'AA+'. At the same time, we are affirming our unsolicited short-term sovereign credit rating on France at 'A-1+'.
  • The downgrade reflects our opinion of the impact of deepening political, financial, and monetary problems within the eurozone, with which France is closely integrated.
  • The outlook on the long-term rating is negative.


Rating Action

On Jan. 13, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services lowered the unsolicited long-term sovereign credit rating on the Republic of France to 'AA+' from 'AAA'. At the same time, we affirmed the unsolicited short-term sovereign credit rating at 'A-1+'. We also removed the ratings from CreditWatch with negative implications, where they were placed on Dec. 5, 2011. The outlook on the long-term rating is negative.

Our transfer and convertibility (T&C) assessment for France, as for all European Economic and Monetary Union (eurozone) members, is 'AAA', reflecting Standard & Poor's view that the likelihood of the European Central Bank restricting nonsovereign access to foreign currency needed for debt service is extremely low. This reflects the full and open access to foreign currency that holders of euro currently enjoy and which we expect to remain the case in the foreseeable future.

Rationale

The downgrade reflects our opinion of the impact of deepening political, financial, and monetary problems within the eurozone.

The outcomes from the EU summit on Dec. 9, 2011, and subsequent statements from policymakers lead us to believe that the agreement reached has not produced a breakthrough of sufficient size and scope to fully address the eurozone's financial problems. In our opinion, the political agreement does not supply sufficient additional resources or operational flexibility to bolster European rescue operations, or extend enough support for those eurozone sovereigns subjected to heightened market pressures.

We also believe that the agreement is predicated on only a partial recognition of the source of the crisis: that the current financial turmoil stems primarily from fiscal profligacy at the periphery of the eurozone. In our view, however, the financial problems facing the eurozone are as much a consequence of rising external imbalances and divergences in competitiveness between the eurozone's core and the so-called "periphery." As such, we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers' rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.

Accordingly, in line with our published sovereign criteria, we have adjusted downward the political score we assign to France (see "Sovereign Government Rating Methodology And Assumptions," published on June 30, 2011). This is a reflection of our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of European policymaking and political institutions (with which France is closely integrated) have not been as strong as we believe are called for by the severity of what we see as a broadening and deepening financial crisis in the eurozone.

France's ratings continue to reflect our view of its wealthy, diversified, and resilient economy and its highly skilled and productive labor force. Partially offsetting these strengths, in our view, are France's relatively high general government debt, as well as its labor market rigidities. We note the government is addressing these issues through, respectively, its budgetary consolidation strategy and structural reforms.

Outlook

The outlook on the long-term rating on France is negative, indicating that we  believe that there is at least a one-in-three chance that we could lower the  rating further in 2012 or 2013 if:

  • Its public finances deviated from the planned budgetary consolidation path. Budgetary measures announced by the French government to date may be insufficient to meet deficit targets in 2012 and 2013, should France's underlying economic growth in these years fall below the government's current forecast of 1% and 2%, respectively. If France's general government deficit were to remain close to current levels, leading to a gradual increase in the net general government debt to surpass 100% of GDP (from just above 80% currently), or if economic growth were to remain weak for an extended period, it could lead to a one-notch downgrade.
  • Heightened financing and economic risks in the eurozone were to lead to a significant increase in contingent liabilities, or to a material worsening of external financing conditions.

Conversely, the ratings could stabilize at current levels if the authorities are successful in further reducing the general government deficit in order to stabilize the public debt ratio in the next two to three years and in implementing reforms to support economic growth.