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Sunday, 7 August 2011

US loses AAA credit rating, why? Dollar sluggish, Trade in RMB!

US loses AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s

The White House maintained silence in the immediate aftermath of S&P downgrade. — Photo by AFP

NEW YORK: The United States lost its top-notch AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s on Friday in an unprecedented reversal of fortune for the world’s largest economy.

S&P cut the long-term US credit rating by one notch to AA-plus on concerns about the government’s budget deficits and rising debt burden. The move is likely to raise borrowing costs eventually for the American government, companies and consumers.

“The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilise the government’s medium-term debt dynamics,” S&P said in a statement.

The decision follows a fierce political battle in Congress over cutting spending and raising taxes to reduce the government’s debt burden and allow its statutory borrowing limit to be raised.

On August 2, President Barack Obama signed legislation designed to reduce the fiscal deficit by $2.1 trillion over 10 years. But that was well short of the $4 trillion in savings S&P had called for as a good “down payment” on fixing America’s finances.

The White House maintained silence in the immediate aftermath of S&P downgrade.

The political gridlock in Washington and the failure to seriously address US long-term fiscal problems came against the backdrop of slowing US economic growth and led to the worst week in the US stock market in two years.

The S&P 500 stock index fell 10.8 per cent in the past 10 trading days on concerns that the US economy may head into another recession and because the European debt crisis has been growing worse as it spreads to Italy.

US Treasury bonds, once undisputedly seen as the safest security in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as Britain, Germany, France or Canada.

‘Daunting implications’

As the focus for investors shifted from the debate in Washington to the outlook for the global economy, even with the prospect of a downgrade, 30-year long bonds had their best week since December 2008 during the depth of the financial crisis.

Yields on 10-year notes, a benchmark for borrowing rates throughout the economy fell as far as 2.34 per cent on Friday — their lowest since October 2010 — also very low by historical standards.

“To some extent, I would expect when Tokyo opens on Sunday, that we will see an initial knee-jerk sell-off (in Treasuries) followed by a rally,” said Ian Lyngen, senior government bond strategist at CRT Capital Group in Stamford, Connecticut.

The outlook on the new US credit rating is “negative,” S&P said in a statement, a sign that another downgrade is possible in the next 12 to 18 months.

“The long-term implications are daunting. Short-term, Treasuries remain a premier safe-haven refuge,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.

Borrowing costs could rise

The impact of S&P’s move was tempered by a decision from Moody’s Investors Service earlier this week that confirmed, for now, the US Aaa rating. Fitch Ratings said it is still reviewing the rating and will issue its opinion by the end of the month.

“It’s not entirely unexpected. I believe it has already been partly priced into the dollar. We expect some further pressure on the US dollar, but a sharp sell-off is in our view unlikely,” said Vassili Serebriakov, currency strategist at Wells Fargo in New York.

“One of the reasons we don’t really think foreign investors will start selling US Treasuries aggressively is because there are still few alternatives to the US Treasury market in terms of depth and liquidity,” Serebriakov added.

S&P’s move is also likely to concern foreign creditors especially China, which holds more than $1 trillion of US debt. Beijing has repeatedly urged Washington to protect its US dollar investments by addressing its budget problem.

Obama administration officials grew increasingly frustrated with the rating agency through the debt limit debate and have accused S&P of changing the goal posts in its downgrade warnings, sources familiar with talks between the administration and the ratings firm have said.

The downgrade could add up to 0.7 of a percentage point to US Treasuries’ yields over time, increasing funding costs for public debt by some $100 billion, according to SIFMA, a US securities industry trade group.

S&P had placed the US credit rating on review for a possible downgrade on July 14 on concerns that Congress was not adequately addressing the government fiscal deficit of about $1.4 trillion this year, or about 9.0 per cent of gross domestic product, one of the highest since World War II.

The unprecedented downgrade of the nation’s AAA credit rating by a major ratings agency comes only 15 months before the next presidential election where the downgrade and the debt will be top issues for debate.

Bitter political battles remain over the ideologically fraught issues of spending cuts and tax reform.

The compromise reached by Republicans and Democrats this week calls for the creation of a bipartisan congressional committee to find $1.5 trillion of deficit cuts by late November, beyond the $917 billion already identified.

Why S&P downgrades US credit rating?

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor's on Friday cut the United States' credit rating to AA+ from AAA, citing three fundamental reasons for the downgrade, the first ever in US history.

Debt burden worry

According to S&P's judgment, the debt situation of the United States doesn't satisfy the requirement of an AAA rating.

S&P compared US debt with the other four countries with AAA ratings: Canada, France, Germany and Britain.

It estimated the five countries will have net general government debt to GDP ratios this year ranging from 34 percent of Canada to 80 percent of Britain, with the US debt burden at 74 percent.

S&P predicted the net public debt to GDP ratios will range between 30 percent of Canada and 83 percent of France, with the US debt burden at 79 percent.

Although the US ratio of net public debt to the GDP was not the highest among the five countries, the rating agency projected that the net public debt burden of the other four countries will begin to decline, either before or by 2015.

Fiscal plan "not enough"

On August 2, US President Barack Obama signed legislation designed to reduce the fiscal deficit by $2.1 trillion over 10 years.

However, according to S&P's calculations, a good "down payment" on fixing the country's finances would be at least $4 trillion.

"The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," S&P said.

The rating agency believed the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicated that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlement, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process.

Lose faith on policy makers

S&P questioned US policy makers' eagerness to solve the debt problems by bipartisan efforts. Also, the rating agency blamed Democrats and Republicans for ignoring its earlier warnings.

On April 18, S&P assigned a negative outlook to US then-AAA rating, warning the debt ceiling should be raised to avoid a default. However, the action didn't draw much attention from policy makers who had decisive power to take quick measures.

The US debt would reach its ceiling of 14.3 trillion on August 2. If the debt ceiling was not raised, the United States would face an unprecedented default.

Through long, testy negotiations between the two parties in Congress, the plan was finally passed just before the August 2 deadline. However, patience and trust in US policy makers diminished as time went by.

"The effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned," S&P said.

Also, as the difficulties behind the debt problems still loom ahead, S&P worried that US policy makers could not react properly and effectively to the "government debt dynamics" any time soon, given their recent performance on dealing with the debt ceiling.

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US loses AAA credit rating after S&P downgrade

One of the world's leading credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's, has downgraded the United States' top-notch AAA rating for the first time ever. 
News ticker in Times Square, New York. 5 Aug 2011 
News of the downgrade ended a tumultuous week for US finances
S&P cut the long-term US rating by one notch to AA+ with a negative outlook, citing concerns about budget deficits.

The agency said the deficit reduction plan passed by the US Congress on Tuesday did not go far enough.

Correspondents say the  downgrade could erode investors' confidence in the world's largest economy.

It is already struggling with huge debts, unemployment of 9.1% and fears of a possible double-dip recession.

The downgrade is a major embarrassment for the administration of President Barack Obama and could raise the cost of US government borrowing.

This in turn could trickle down to higher interest rates for local governments and individuals.

Analysis - Business editor, BBC News

The US losing its AAA rating matters. It is a very loud statement that there has been an appreciable increase in the risk - which might still be tiny, but it exists - that the US might one day struggle to pay back all it owes. Another important certainty in the world of finance has gone.

Of course many will argue - and already have - that the record of ratings agencies such as Standard & Poor's of getting these things right in recent years has been lamentably poor.

Think of all the subprime CDO products rated AAA by S&P that turned out to be garbage.

But S&P, Moody's and Fitch (and particularly the first two) still have a privileged official position in the world of finance: they determine what collateral can be taken by central banks from commercial banks, when those central banks lend to commercial banks.

However, some analysts said with debt woes across much of the developed world, US debt remained an attractive option for investors.

The other two major credit rating agencies, Moody's and Fitch, said on Friday night they had no immediate plans to follow S&P in taking the US off their lists of risk-free borrowers.

'Flawed judgement'

Officials in Washington told US media that the agency's sums were deeply flawed.

Unnamed sources were quoted as saying that a treasury official had spotted a $2 trillion [£1.2 trillion] mistake in the agency's analysis.

"A judgment flawed by a $2tn error speaks for itself," a US treasury department spokesman said of the S&P analysis. He did not offer any immediate explanation.

John Chambers, chairman of S&P's sovereign ratings committee, told CNN that the US could have averted a downgrade if it had resolved its congressional stalemate earlier.

"The first thing it could have done is raise the debt ceiling in a timely matter so the debate would have been avoided to begin with," he said.

International reaction to the S&P move has been mixed.

China, the world's largest holder of US debt, had "every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets," said a commentary in the official Xinhua news agency.

"International supervision over the issue of US dollars should be introduced and a new, stable and secured global reserve currency may also be an option to avert a catastrophe caused by any single country," the commentary said.

However, officials in Japan, South Korea and Australia have urged a calm response to the downgrade.

The S&P announcement comes after a week of turmoil on global stock markets, partly triggered by fears over the US economy's recovery and the eurozone crisis.

With a bill to raise the US debt ceiling finally passed, the US has managed to avoid the catastrophic effects of a debt default. Now the focus has moved to the underlying economy and whether GDP is about to stall.
S&P had threatened the downgrade if the US could not agree to cut its federal debt by at least $4tn over the next decade. 

Instead, the bill passed by Congress on Tuesday plans $2.1tn in savings over 10 years.

S&P said the Republicans and Democrats had only been able to agree "relatively modest savings", which fell "well short" of what had been envisaged.

The agency also noted that the legislation delegates the lion's share of savings to a bipartisan committee, which must report back to Congress in November on where the axe should fall.

The bill - which also raises the federal debt ceiling by up to $2.4tn, from $14.3tn, over a decade - was passed on Tuesday just hours before the expiry of a deadline to raise the US borrowing limit.

S&P ratings (selected)
  • AAA: UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia

  • AA+: USA, Belgium, New Zealand

  • AA-: Japan, China

Source: S&P

S&P said in its report issued late on Friday: "The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilise the government's medium-term debt dynamics.

"More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges."

The agency said it might lower the US long-term rating another notch to AA within the next two years if its deficit reduction measures were deemed inadequate.

S&P noted that the bill passed by Congress this week did not include new revenues - Republicans had staunchly opposed President Barack Obama's calls for tax rises to help pay off America's deficit.

The credit agency also noted that the legislation contained only minor policy changes to Medicare, an entitlement programme dear to Democrats.

"The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed," it added.

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Moneychangers see sluggish trade in US dollar

PETALING JAYA: Trade in the US dollar has been sluggish over the last week for moneychangers as customers “wait and see” which direction the currency will go.

“It has become a waiting game as people look for the best time to buy.

“Now, even trade in euros has slowed down,” said moneychanger Sahul Hamed, who operates the PJ Forex outlet at Bukit Bintang Plaza in Kuala Lumpur.

“With the current economic situation, customers are expecting the value to dip but are reluctant to buy when they feel it hasn't gone down by much.”

Anxious wait: The demand for US dollars could spike with a potential fall in the currency’s value following the downgrading of the US credit rating on Friday ->>

Moneychanger Jamil Akhbar Ali said there had been a dip in both sales and purchase of the US dollar despite the stable value of the currency over the last week.

“Most of our customers deal in Singapore and US dollars.

“While trade in the Singapore currency remains about the same, there are fewer people trading US dollars,” said the Petaling Jaya-based moneychanger.

Automotive engineer Meng Ng, 35, a Malaysian based in the United States for the last decade, said the exchange rate had not changed much since he last came to Malaysia four months ago.

“While the prices offered by moneychangers fluctuate slightly every day, on average the exchange rate has been pretty reasonable,” he said.

With the worsening US debt outlook and after US-based credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the US credit rating on Friday, speculation was rife that the US dollar would weaken considerably.

RAM Holdings Bhd group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng said while the US currency would probably dip in the short term, he expected it to recover fairly quickly.

“When Japan's credit rating was downgraded from AAA status to AA+, its debt market was hardly affected with bond yields remaining relatively unchanged,” he said.

“The weakening US dollar would make imports from the country cheaper not only for large industries, but even for something as small as an online purchase.

“It's a double-edged sword though, as the US will lower its demand and import less when its economy is going through a soft patch.”

Trade in renminbi, says FMM


 PETALING JAYA: Malaysia should consider trading in a different currency from the US dollar, such as the Chinese renminbi, to avoid being affected by the dollar's devaluation.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) president Tan Sri Mustafa Mansur said people had to accept the fact that China was poised to be the largest economy in the world.

“We also export a lot to China and our business with the country has grown substantially since the enforcement of the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement,” he said yesterday.

Mustafa said many countries, which traded using the US dollar, including Malaysia, would stand to lose out as its exports would have a lesser value following the currency's downgrading.

“Based on this situation, we might have to look into the possibility of trading in a different currency,” he said.

Mustafa said this when asked to comment on the United States losing its coveted top AAA credit rating and its impact in Malaysia.

It was reported that credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the nation's rating for the first time since the US won the top ranking in 1917.

Mustafa added that it was also better for Malaysia to trade in ringgit as this would distance the country from any risk of further downgrading of the US dollar.

He said other currencies, which could also replace the US dollar were dinar, dirham or the Japanese yen.

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