Australia could be a step closer to losing its vaunted triple A credit rating after a deeply divided electorate left the country in limbo and foreshadowed a hung parliament where no party holds outright power.
The uncertain outcome of Saturday's federal election heightened fears Australia could be consigned to three years of minority government and paralysis on budget reform, a scenario that is expected to cause market jitters on Monday.
"The market doesn't like uncertainty and the election result has delivered that in spades," AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver told Reuters, adding a ratings downgrade appeared likely.
"It will probably effect the Aussie dollar and I think the share market; we will see a negative knee-jerk reaction tomorrow."
Australia's debt levels, while relatively low on a global scale, have been heading in the wrong direction for years. All the most ambitious attempts to right the fiscal ship have been sunk by the ruling coalition government's lack of power in the upper house Senate.
Rating agencies have been patient with the political process up to now, but there are signs time might be running out.
"Australia should be doing so much better than it is," Oliver said.
A downgrade would be a political nightmare for whichever party is in power, after successive governments brandished the rating as a badge of honor. Only 10 nations have the top rating from all three of the major agencies.
Losing it would "be a blow to confidence" and could lead to a rash of downgrades for Australian banks and companies, the opposition Labor Party has warned.
In May, Moody's noted that governments of all stripes were finding it hard to rein in spending, and budget deficits had been repeatedly revised higher.
Treasurer Scott Morrison's latest forecast was for net debt to peak at 19.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by mid-2018. Yet as recently as the 2012/13 budget the peak had been projected to be less than 10 percent.