World Economy

2016’s already a record year for country downgrades—watch out for more: Fitch

With over three months to go, 2016 looks set to be a record year in terms of the number of sovereign downgrades by Fitch Ratings.

Twenty countries have had their ratings cut so far this year by the major ratings agency. So far, this matches the tally for the whole of 2011 and the most since Fitch started record keeping in 1994.

Furthermore, the number of countries on "negative outlook" — at risk of downgrade — outstrips those on "positive outlook" across the world. In developed markets, for instance, Belgium, Japan and the U.K. are on negative outlook by Fitch.

People cross a street in a business district in Tokyo, Japan.
Thomas Peter | Reuters

At a conference in London Tuesday, Fitch's head of sovereigns said that developed countries, particularly European ones, faced unfavorable debt dynamics despite low funding costs.

James McCormack highlighted that real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the U.K., France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Canada was lower than the real effective interest rate, posing challenges to repayment of debt. Meanwhile, Japan, the U.S., France, Spain and the U.K. have primary deficits (defined as the fiscal deficit, which is the difference between government revenue and expenditure, minus interest payments).

Among the challenges facing Europe included "austerity fatigue," euroskepticism (criticism of the European Union or membership of the euro zone), high levels of migration and security concerns, McCormack said.

The U.K., meanwhile, faced a weaker growth outlook and prolonged legal and regulatory uncertainty after its vote to leave the European Union in June. Fitch downgraded the country to AA with negative outlook from AA+ immediately after the referendum.

"It is very clear that the U.K. government has done no effective contingency planning for Brexit," Ed Parker, Fitch's head of Europe, Middle East and Africa sovereigns, said at the conference.

Is Brexit anxiety here to stay?

Major emerging market countries that Fitch has on negative outlook include Russia and Turkey. It revised its outlook on Turkey last month following an unsuccessful military coup. On Tuesday, the agency said Turkey's rating would be reviewed in the first six weeks of 2017.

Paul Gamble, Fitch's head of Emerging Europe sovereigns, said Turkey's economy had shown a "significant degree of resilience" since the failed coup. However, he added, "There are clearly long-term spending pressure coming from military spending and refugees."

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