S&P warns more sovereign downgrades likely this year

LONDON (Reuters) - More governments are likely to see their sovereign credit ratings cut this year, S&P Global said on Wednesday.

A view shows the Standard & Poor's building in New York's financial district February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

An average of more than one country a week has had its rating cut by the big rating agencies - S&P, Moody’s and Fitch - since the start of 2014.

A new report from S&P showed it had 30 sovereigns on downgrade warnings, or “negative outlooks” in rating firm parlance, at the start of the month, compared with just six on positive outlooks.

“This outlook distribution suggests that negative rating actions are likely to continue to outnumber positive actions over the coming 12 months,” S&P said in a mid-year review of its rating moves.

“More downgrades are likely this year” that section of the report was titled.

Some of the big economies with negative outlooks on their ratings include Brexit-bound Britain, which last year became the first AAA country to be cut by two rating notches at once, and still triple-A Australia.

South Africa, which is being hit by political uncertainty and weak growth, is also on the list alongside other emerging market heavyweights such as Mexico, Turkey and Brazil.

Over the past six months, S&P’s ratings balance has been relatively unchanged in the regions around the world.

There has been a marginal deterioration in Asia-Pacific and Europe, it said, somewhat countered by an improvement in Latin America and no change in the Middle East, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Africa.

The outlook balance in the latter remains very high, but has somewhat improved from its trough at the end of 2015. This contrasts with Asia-Pacific and Latin America, where the outlook balance has deteriorated sharply over that period.

Just over half of all rated sovereigns are investment grade (‘BBB-’ or above). “This ratio is the lowest it has ever been,” S&P said.

Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Larry King and Hugh Lawson