‘Double trouble’ for Russia; ratings outlook 'darkens'

Major countries' credit ratings are under threat from falling oil prices and weaker global economic growth, according to a report published Thursday, which named Russia and Brazil as the most vulnerable.

"While some countries are going to see a boost in the year ahead, weaker growth and declining commodity prices now undermine key sovereign ratings," said Jan Randolph, director of sovereign risk at IHS Economics, in statement accompanying research from the information provider.

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Over the past 12 months, there has been an uptick in number of countries being upgraded, and a decline in sovereign downgrades, according to Randolph. Looking at IHS's own ratings, as well as those from the three major ratings agencies—Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service—he found that 100 countries had been upgraded over the last year, while only 68 had been downgraded. In comparison, over the previous 12-months, there were 92 upgrades and 114 downgrades.

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The rebound in the global economy may be slowing, however, and Russia and neigboring ex-Soviet states are likely to be hit, according to IHS.

"The ratings outlook continues to darken for Russia and those CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries closely linked economically," said Randolph.

'Double trouble'

As a major oil and gas exporter, Randolph said Russia was in "double trouble" because of the continued decline in Brent crude oil prices and the impact from Western-imposed economic sanctions.

His concern was echoed by the International Monetary Fund on Thursday. Spokesman Bill Murray warned that Russian economic growth was likely to fall further due to the impact of falling oil prices, according to Reuters. It came after data published Thursday revealed that Russia's economic growth slowed in the third quarter to 0.7 percent year-on-year, down from 0.8 percent in the second quarter.

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Randolph noted that the closing-off of financing channels in the U.S. and Europe as a result of sanctions would drive Russian companies to domestic banks for funds.

"This…culminates in increasing demands and downward pressures on the central bank's own foreign exchange reserves, in addition to capital flight," he said.

As a major exporter of iron ore and soybeans, Brazil is also vulnerable to sagging commodity prices—as well as the slowing Chinese economy and the ebbing of capital flows into emerging markets. Like neighboring Argentina and Venezuela, it is also suffering from worsening social and political tensions over reforms and economic mismanagement.

ARYA JAFARI | AFP | Getty Images

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In addition, the rebound in ratings for European countries over the last 12 months could be nearing an end, Randolph warned.

"This appears to be coming to an end if growth falters further and as France and Italy now find themselves in the negative spotlight in Europe," he said.

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