05 August 2011
by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s says it has downgraded the United States’ credit rating for the first time in the history of the ratings.
The credit rating agency says that it is cutting the country’s top AAA rating by one notch to AA-plus. The credit agency said late Friday that it is making the move because the deficit reduction plan passed by Congress on Tuesday did not go far enough to stabilize the country’s debt situation.
A statement issued by the company this evening said:
- We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the United States of America to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA’ and affirmed the ‘A-1+’ short-term rating.
- We have also removed both the short- and long-term ratings from CreditWatch negative.
- The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
- More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
- Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
- The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.
On Aug. 5, 2011, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services lowered its long-term sovereign credit rating on the United States of America to ’AA+’ from ’AAA’. The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. At the same time, Standard & Poor’s affirmed its ’A-1+’ short-term rating on the U.S. In addition, Standard & Poor’s removed both ratings from CreditWatch, where they were placed on July 14, 2011, with negative implications.
The transfer and convertibility (T&C) assessment of the U.S. — our assessment of the likelihood of official interference in the ability of U.S.-based public- and private-sector issuers to secure foreign exchange for debt service — remains ’AAA’.
We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.
Our lowering of the rating was prompted by our view on the rising public debt burden and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty, consistent with our criteria (see “Sovereign Government Rating Methodology and Assumptions,” June 30, 2011, especially Paragraphs 36-41). Nevertheless, we view the U.S. federal government’s other economic, external, and monetary credit attributes, which form the basis for the sovereign rating, as broadly unchanged.
We have taken the ratings off CreditWatch because the Aug. 2 passage of the Budget Control Act Amendment of 2011 has removed any perceived immediate threat of payment default posed by delays to raising the government’s debt ceiling. In addition, we believe that the act provides sufficient clarity to allow us to evaluate the likely course of U.S. fiscal policy for the next few years.
The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year’s wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.
Our opinion is that elected officials remain wary of tackling the structural issues required to effectively address the rising U.S. public debt burden in a manner consistent with a ’AAA’ rating and with ’AAA’ rated sovereign peers (see Sovereign Government Rating Methodology and Assumptions,” June 30, 2011, especially Paragraphs 36-41). In our view, the difficulty in framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government’s ability to manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal stringency and private-sector deleveraging (ibid). A new political consensus might (or might not) emerge after the 2012 elections, but we believe that by then, the government debt burden will likely be higher, the needed medium-term fiscal adjustment potentially greater, and the inflection point on the U.S. population’s demographics and other age-related spending drivers closer at hand (see “Global Aging 2011: In The U.S., Going Gray Will Likely Cost Even More Green, Now,” June 21, 2011).
As we have already said on LezGetReal, the decision by the Republicans to play chicken has hurt us all. Their obsession with destroying President Barack Obama has created a situation where the United States is now in real and serious threat of damage. Where as the US economy was once heading into a second recession, now it is heading into a depression. Job growth is unlikely in the near future, and the problems that the economy is already having will just get worse because of this reckless disregard for the future of America.
It was Jon Stewart who basically said that he was against this idea of no government, but that is what these people want. The Republicans are doing what they can to ensure that there will be no American government. As India and China have a burgeoning middle class who can buy stuff from American companies, the megacorps are looking for new places to find cheap labor, and given the instability in Africa, they are choosing to implode the United States rather than allow a recovery.
On Monday, the stock market will crash. The big question now is, will it take the nation with it, or will the Republicans finally wake up and act like the patriots that they claim that they are and raise revenue and really get our financial house in order.