Fitch downgrades sovereign rating to B+

The agency said the growing fiscal deficit, low economic growth, political polarization and weak business confidence, were the triggers for the downgrading of long-term debt.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Fitch Ratings-New York-09 July 2015: Fitch Ratings has downgraded El Salvador's long-term foreign and local currency IDRs to 'B+' from 'BB-'. Fitch has also downgraded the issue ratings on El Salvador's senior unsecured foreign and local currency bonds to 'B+' from 'BB-'. The Rating Outlooks on the Long-term IDRs have been revised to Stable from Negative. In addition, Fitch has downgraded El Salvador's Country Ceiling to 'BB' from 'BB+' and affirmed the short-term foreign currency IDR at 'B'.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

The downgrade of El Salvador's sovereign ratings is driven by its rising debt burden and growth underperformance relative to peers. Political polarization, prolonged periods of congressional gridlock and weak business confidence continue to hinder progress on reforms to arrest the deterioration of public finances and improve the business environment.

Non-financial public sector debt climbed to 58% of GDP in 2014, rapidly diverging from the 'B' median of 49%. Fitch forecasts that the debt burden could reach 65% by 2017, absent policies to reverse primary fiscal deficits and reduce debt issuance to cover pension costs. The government has increasingly relied on long term external bond placements to redeem short term debt and finance its deficit. However, congressional opposition to approve external debt, higher interest rates in the U.S. and heightened risk aversion could deteriorate financing conditions in 2015-2017. The Supreme Court has recently issued a stay order on the issuance of USD900 million in long term bonds, which would imply greater reliance on treasury bills to finance the 2015 budget.

There is uncertainty on the timing and effectiveness of the fiscal consolidation strategy. Fitch expects the budget deficit to widen to 4.3% of GDP in 2015-2017 from 3.6% in 2014. High informality, weak growth and spending rigidities - chiefly government payroll, subsidies and pensions - prevent faster fiscal deficit reduction despite the authorities' demonstrated effort to increase tax collection and restrain public investment. Legislative factions have yet to reach a consensus on two long-awaited fiscal responsibility and pension reform bills.

Five-year average economic growth is expected to converge to its estimated potential of 2% in 2015, but will remain well below regional peers and the 4.6% median of the 'B' category. Fitch forecasts that economic activity could expand 2.2% on average in 2015 - 2017, supported by the U.S recovery, real wage growth and the positive effect on trade and consumption of lower oil prices. Upside risks to growth will hinge on the execution of infrastructure and energy projects. Structural constraints, including high crime, low investment rates, weak human capital and low competitiveness weigh on private investment and growth prospects.

El Salvador has become increasingly dependent on external borrowing to finance current account deficits that reached 4.8% of GDP in 2014. Foreign direct investment inflows (1.9% in 2014) are among the lowest in the 'B' category and outflows (0.8% of GDP in 2014) of Salvadorian businesses expanding abroad have increased since 2013. Net external debt rose to 29% of GDP in 2014, exceeding the 'B' median of 11%, primarily driven by sovereign borrowing and banking sector credit lines to support lending as deposit growth has stagnated.

El Salvador's 'B+' ratings are supported by its macroeconomic stability underpinned by dollarization, adequately capitalized banking system and solid sovereign repayment record. The country has a higher income per capita, social development and governance indicators than peers. The authorities have demonstrated capacity to implement tax reforms to contain fiscal deterioration despite low growth and difficulties in achieving legislative consensus. A captive local investor base, broad multilateral support and continued access to global bond markets have provided the sovereign with sufficient financing flexibility.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

The Stable Outlook reflects Fitch's assessment that that upside and downside risks to the rating are currently balanced. The main risk factors that, individually or collectively, could trigger a rating action are:

Positive:

--Reduction in budget deficits leading to the stabilization of the debt burden.
--Improvements in the political and business environment that result in higher investment and growth rates.

Negative:

--Fiscal deterioration that results in faster-than-expected worsening of public debt dynamics
--Evidence of financing constraints in domestic or international markets.
--Escalation of crime or policy mismanagement that affect macroeconomic stability and growth prospects.

KEY ASSUMPTIONS

--Fitch' economic growth and external forecasts assume that the strengthening of the U.S. economy would support exports, family remittances and private consumption in El Salvador. Similarly, lower oil prices could reduce imports, utility subsidies and consumer prices.
--Fitch assumes that the sovereign will be able to find alternative financing through treasury bills in case of an adverse ruling by the Supreme Court to the borrowing of USD900m in 2015. Fitch expects the government to tap international capital markets next year and beyond for financing purposes.
--Fitch assumes that the normalization of monetary policy rates in the U.S. proceeds in an orderly manner and does not result in external financing constraints for El Salvador in 2015 - 2017.



More on this topic

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Arguing that Costa Rica reflects consistently large fiscal deficits, short-term financing needs because of a strong repayment schedule and budget financing constraints, Fitch Ratings reported on January 15 that the country's long-term foreign currency issuer default rating was downgraded from BB to B+.

El Salvador's Debt Rating Downgraded Again

February 2017

In line with recent warnings issued by other credit rating agencies regarding the country's bleak fiscal outlook, Fitch has reduced the debt rating from B + to B, and changed the outlook to negative.

From a press release issued by Fitch Ratings:

Fitch Ratings-New York-01 February 2017: Fitch Ratings has downgraded El Salvador's Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) to 'B' from 'B+'.

Fitch Downgrades Guatemala's Ratings to 'BB'

June 2014

Fitch has also downgraded the issue ratings on Guatemala's senior unsecured foreign and local currency bonds to 'BB' from 'BB+', with outlook revised to Stable.

From the press release by Fitch Ratings:

Fitch Ratings has downgraded Guatemala's long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) to 'BB' from 'BB+'.

Fitch Lowers Rating Outlook for El Salvador

July 2012

Fitch Ratings has downgraded the economic perspective of the rating, making it negative outlook BB.

From the press release by Fitch Ratings:

Fitch Ratings - New York - July 24, 2012: Fitch Ratings affirms its ratings for El Salvador as follows:
- Long-Term Ratings (IDR) in foreign currency and local currency 'BB';

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