June 10, 2012 6148 VIEWS

June 10, 2012/ Larry Elliott, Heather Stewart and Josephine Moulds write:

Fitch has cut Spain's sovereign credit rating to BBB from A. See how different credit rating agency compare countries

How do credit ratings vary by country and by ratings agencies? Fitch has slashed Spain's sovereign credit rating to BBB from A and given the country a negative outlook.

The credit rating agency announced the decision yesterday citing "the high fiscal cost of restructuring and recapitalizing the Spanish banking sector, and the likelihood that Spain will remain in recession through 2013" as the major factors precipitating the downgrade.


Fitch said mistakes at a European level that had allowed the debt crisis to escalate were in part to blame for its decision to cut Spain's credit rating by three notches to just above junk bond status.

The move – which follows the pattern that led to Greece, Ireland and Portugal needing help from Europe and the International Monetary Fund – makes it harder and more expensive for Spain to borrow money on the world's financial markets.

In a tense time for Europe, Moody's have cut the credit ratings of six German banking groups and Austria's three-largest banks. Greece had their rating slashed to CCC from B- by Fitch only two months after an upgrade following its debt restructuring deal.

In March the UK was given a warning by Fitch when the credit rating outlook was changed to negative, becoming the second ratings agency to put the treasured AAA rating at risk after Moody's made the same move. This signalled a "slightly greater than 50% chance" that Britain would lose its AAA rating with Fitch in the next two years.

There has been better news though - Honduras have had their long-term foreign and local-currency sovereign credit ratings raised by Standard and Poors, from B to B+ and given a stable outlook.

Elsewhere, Moody's downgraded its rating for Cyprus to Ba1 - junk status - and gave it a negative outlook back in March. The credit agency also took its rating for Greece down from Ca to C. The interactive below by Thiagu on Charts Bin shows how each country is rated. Click on the drop down menu to switch between credit rating agencies.

In February, the UK had the outlook on its Aaa Moody's rating changed to negative in a range of adjustments by the major credit agency including downgrades for Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain.

At that time, Moody's also announced France and Austria would share the same fate as the UK with their outlooks being changed to negative.

The recent rating adjustments from Moody's echo the mass downgrade of nine eurozone countries by Standard & Poor's which saw France stripped of its coveted AAA credit last month. S&P also cut Austria's triple-A rating, and relegated Portugal and Cyprus to junk status. The agency downgraded the ratings of Italy and Spain by two notches and Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia were all cut by one notch.

Last August, America lost its AAA rating when S&P downgraded it to AA+, despite a deal being drawn to raise the US debt ceiling.

Earlier last year, Moody's re-assessed the credit ratings of several countries. Ireland had its credit rating slashed last year, down two notches to Baa3 - leaving it at just above junk status, with the verdict being delivered as the euro dropped against the dollar.

So, who are the ratings agencies? The big three agencies are Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poors. What they do is assess how likely a borrower is to be able to repay its debts and help those trading debt contracts in the secondary market.

That means for those trading debt contracts such as Treasury gilts after they have been issued, ratings agencies help assess a fair price to charge. Ratings agencies have been criticised for having too much clout in jittery markets during the financial crisis. They were widely attacked for failing to warn of the risks posed by certain securities, in particular mortgage-backed securities.

Losing your rating or being downgraded can have a fatal effect on your country's ability to borrow money on the markets.

Thanks to the three big agencies, we can bring you the ratings of countries around the world as of today. Because each agency's approach is slightly different, we have colour-coded them in three broad categories too. All the ratings have been updated today. Ratings for previous updates this year and from 2011 are in the spreadsheet, so you can see how ratings have changed over time.

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