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So CNN was lying?

2011-07-01 06:23:17

S&P denies rating Ghana among “top 10 most insolvent nations” Last Updated: Friday, 1 July 2011, 10:10 GMT Previous Page

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Standard & Poor's has denied providing a numerical ranking of the credit worthiness of countries and placing Jamaica at second in a list of states likely to falter on the repayment of sovereign foreign debt.

A top 10 list of countries said to be likely to default, attributed to S&P and published by CNN last week, came on the back of the rating agency's downgrade of Greece from 'B' to 'CCC' with a negative outlook - making it the worst-ranked sovereign worldwide - even as the EU and IMF cobble a rescue plan for the Mediterranean country.

However, John Piecuch, S&P's director of communications for the Americas, who is based in New York, said Tuesday that no such listing has been produced by the agency.

"We don't rate countries in that manner," he told the Financial Gleaner, adding that S&P would not have provided a numerical ranking.

Piecuch explained that after the agency downgraded Greece, S&P received calls from media houses "all over the world" enquiring about which other countries rated by the agency were likely to default.

He said S&P's rating services currently rates 126 sovereign governments, the alphabetical listing of which was disseminated based on requests and which has subsequently been made available to the Financial Gleaner.

From that listing, Greece, the only country with a 'CCC' rating as at June 13, and nine other countries - five with a 'B-minus' ranking including Jamaica, and four with a 'B' rating - were chosen and placed in the top 10 list.

A country rated in the 'B' category is considered more vulnerable than one with a higher ranking, but, according to RatingsDirect, S&P's online credit analysis reference tool, "the obligor has the capacity to meet its financial obligations."

Adverse business, financial or economic conditions could impair the obligor's capacity or willingness to meet those commitments.

However, in the report posted by CNN, no explanation has been given as to why those countries were adjudged to be less creditworthy than others, among the 126 countries, with a 'B' ranking.

Asked about Jamaica's purported second-place least-creditworthy ranking, Financial Secretary Dr Wesley Hughes said he was persuaded that Jamaica government bondholders remained confident that Jamaica would honour its sovereign debt obligations.

Hughes' optimism was largely based on a constitutional provision which, he said, caused Jamaica to be fundamentally different from the other countries identified in the list.

"Jamaica is the only country that has written into its constitution the repayment of debt," he said. "There is no other country in the world with a constitutional provision and that gives a lot of confidence to our bondholders, especially the external ones."

Section 119 of the Jamaican Constitution provides for the public debt to be charged on the Consolidated Fund. References to the public debt include interest, sinking fund payments and redemption monies in respect of that debt and the costs, charges and expenses incidental to the management of that debt.

Professor Damien King, head of the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies, said negative assumptions about Jamaica's ability to repay its debts has been ongoing for many years.

"Jamaica's default on debt has been predicted by people - some of them knowledgeable people - on several occasions over the last 10 years and it has not yet happened," King told the Financial Gleaner. "And I can't imagine what anybody thinks is worse now than five years ago that would make it possible."

In February 2010, S&P raised its sovereign foreign-currency debt rating on Jamaica to B-minus from selective default with a stable outlook after the government offered to exchange all of its domestic debt, worth about $702 billion, for longer-dated, lower-yielding securities as part of a plan to shore up the economy.

In February, Fitch Ratings reaffirmed Jamaica's debt rating at B-minus with a stable outlook.

The agency said then that Jamaica's ratings were supported by its relative high level of institutional strength, which has allowed it to provide policy responses to fiscal and balance of payment pressures over the years.

Fitch said Jamaica continues to make steady progress in meeting quantitative targets and implementing the reform initiatives agreed as part of the International Monetary Fund standby agreement, reflecting its strong commitment to maintaining investor confidence and stability.

Source: McPherse Thompson, Assistant Editor - Business

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