As regular readers may recall, back on June 14, before it became an even bigger pariah in the thoroughly discredited rating agency space due to its refusal to downgrade the US, Moody's placed French megabanks SocGen, BNP and Credit Agricole on downgrade review, which means that at some point in the future the rating agency would have to cut the banks' rating from its existing Aa1-2, to Aa3 or even a single A. It is true that when it comes to downgrade reviews the rating agencies are notorious for being as unpredictable in their timing as they are conflicted in their rating: for example even though Belgium was supposed to be downgraded months ago due to the fact that it continues to be the longest running modern anarchy, nothing has occurred, as political interests are obviously pushing the raters to do as paying clients request, not as reality demands. Alas, for France, which is very sensitive to any inkling it may have a less than sterling rating (due to its sovereign AAA requirement without which the EFSF/ESM falls apart), the luck may have run out. Bloomberg reports that the abovementioned banks "may have their credit ratings cut by Moody’s Investors Service as soon as next week because of their Greek holdings, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
Bloomberg continues: "Cuts are expected next week as the review period concludes, said the people, who declined to be identified because the matter is confidential." Needless to say, this event will come at what is possibly the worst time for Europe, which is already scrambling on all fronts to protect itself from a financial and sovereign implosion courtesy of risk contagion and general insolvency. The point is that while the French banks will likely receive the implicit support of the G-7 which is meeting in Marseilles as we type, the ramifications are that an even weaker financial system will case the French sovereign rating in an even weaker light, and a cut to the country's AAA rating will hence be inevitable. When that happens, Europe will have no choice but to completely redo its entire bailout struture, as a French downgrade will throw the EFSF-CDO mechanism, and the European bailout crusade, in terminal flux.
Credit Agricole spokeswoman Anne-Sophie Gentil declined to comment, as did BNP Paribas spokesman Antoine Sire. Societe Generale spokeswoman Laetitia Maurel said she couldn’t immediately comment. Voicemail messages left on the mobile and office lines of Moody’s chief European spokesman Daniel Piels today, outside of working hours, weren’t immediately answered.
Societe Generale has dropped 55 percent in Paris trading since June 15, while Credit Agricole tumbled 45 percent and BNP Paribas has declined 42 percent. The Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index of 46 companies fell 30 percent in the same period.
The reviews of Credit Agricole and BNP Paribas are unlikely to lead to downgrades of more than one level, Moody’s said when it put the banks under review. Societe Generale’s debt and deposit ratings may be cut as much as two grades because of the “uplift it receives from systemic support, which is currently higher than average for the French banking system,” the rating company said at the time.
Credit Agricole’s main risk arises from its Greek subsidiary Emporiki Bank of Greece SA, which was downgraded earlier this month, Moody’s said in June. Societe Generale, France’s second-largest bank by market value, faces risks from its stake in General Bank of Greece. Credit Agricole is France’s third-largest bank. BNP Paribas doesn’t have a local unit in Greece and is instead at risk from direct holdings of Greek government debt, Moody’s said.
And since in finance it is always about relative value, or lack thereof, we remind readers that yesterday we speculated that Credit Agricole, whose 3M USD Libor fixing soared to the highest of all BBA member banks, may soon become the next most prominent target of shorts (after Dexia of course, which is in for a rollercoaster of its own in the coming week).
Sure enough, the imminent downgrade provides an explanation why the bank scrambled to procure last capital funding before the funding doors shut. Alas, what matters far more is what the market response will be. Unfortunately for the bank, it will hardly be favorable; and with shorting already illegal, there is very little that European authorities can do reactively to pretend they still have any semblance of control over this slow motion train wreck.