"No triple-A rating is forever"
The Wall Street Journal
by Mark Brown and
January 13, 2011
LONDON—Two leading credit rating agencies on Thursday cautioned the U.S. on its credit rating, expressing concern over a deteriorating fiscal situation that they say needs correction.
Moody's Investors Service said in a report Thursday that the U.S. will need to reverse an upward trajectory in the debt ratios to support its triple-A rating.
"We have become increasingly clear about the fact that if there are not offsetting measures to reverse the deterioration in negative fundamentals in the U.S., the likelihood of a negative outlook over the next two years will increase," said Sarah Carlson, senior analyst at Moody's.
Standard and Poor's Corp. on Thursday also didn't rule out changing the outlook for its U.S. sovereign-debt rating because of the recent deterioration of the country's fiscal situation. The U.S. currently has a triple-A rating with a stable outlook at both agencies.
"The view of markets is that the U.S. will continue to benefit from the exorbitant privilege linked to the U.S. dollar" to fund its deficits, Carol Sirou, head of S and P France, said at a Paris conference Thursday. "But that may change. We can't rule out changing the outlook" on the U.S. sovereign debt rating in the future, she warned. She added the jobless nature of the U.S. recovery was one of the biggest threats to the U.S. economy. "No triple-A rating is forever," she said.
Moody's said the U.S., Germany, France and the U.K. still have debt metrics, including the debt affordability, compatible with their triple-A ratings at Moody's. But all four countries must bring the future costs arising from pension and healthcare subsidies under control if they "are to maintain long-term stability in their debt burden credit metrics," Moody's said in its regular triple-A Sovereign Monitor report.
Moody's noted that measures were recommended by the U.S. National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, appointed by President Obama, to achieve a balanced primary budget by 2015, but that there was insufficient support to trigger consideration of those recommendations by the full Congress.
They included a wide variety of measures, including Social Security reform, cutbacks in the growth of Medicare outlays, elimination or modification of the mortgage interest tax deduction, a gasoline tax and other measures, Moody's said.
"In Moody's view, a plan that would result in a reversal of the upward trajectory in the debt ratios would indeed be supportive of the country's Aaa rating," the ratings agency said in its report. "However, it is unlikely that the Commission's recommendations will be adopted."
The most recent official figures show the ratio of federal debt to revenue averaging 397% of gross domestic product in the period to 2020, while the ratio of interest to revenue will rise to 17.6% by 2020, from 8.6% in the last fiscal year. "These figures are "quite high for an Aaa-rated country," Moody's said. Read On