Sovereign debt: In a widely anticipated move, the credit rating of the euro zone’s bailout fund was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s Monday night.
The move comes after the the American ratings agency lowered the credit scores of nine euro area states--most notably demoting France and Austria from the highest AAA score--on Friday. Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are the only euro area states that kept their top notch marks. S&P said it was not impressed by the recent fiscal actions of European leaders.
Europe’s bailout fund, the Luxembourg-based European Financial Stability Facility, is backed by euro zone governments, and supports financially troubled member states such as Greece and Portugal.
The EFSF had previously relied in large part on member states’ AAA-ratings to keep its own financing costs down, as investors demand higher yields when buying lower rated government debt. After Monday’s downgrade, the facility’s lending power may be diminished, since only four euro countries now have AAA status.
However, the EFSF still holds top ratings from the other two major agencies, Fitch and Moody’s.
“The downgrade to 'AA+' by only one credit agency will not reduce EFSF’s lending capacity of 440 billion euro,” Klaus Regling (photo, left), CEO of the EFSF, said in a press statement. The “EFSF has sufficient means to fulfill its commitments under current and potential future adjustment programmes until the ESM becomes operational in July 2012.”
“Neither rating agency has indicated any rating action for EFSF in the immediate future,” Jean-Claude Junker (photo, centre), prime minister of Luxembourg and president of the euro group, said in a press statement. In March European leaders will consider increasing the lending ceiling of the EFSF--and that of the ESM, the agency that will replace in July--to 500 billion euro, Juncker said.
In its press statement, S&P warned it could further downgrade EFSF debt, “if we conclude that the creditworthiness of the EFSF's members will likely be further reduced over the next two years.”
UPDATED: The EFSF sold €1.501 billion in 6-month bills on Tuesday morning, its second short-term debt auction, receiving more than four billion euro in bids, it reported. “The success of today’s auction confirms investors’ confidence in EFSF as a high quality issuer,” Christophe Frankel, CFO and Deputy CEO of the EFSF, said in a press statement.