S&P downgrades Barbados

More bad news for Caribbean economies – rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Wednesday downgraded the foreign currency rating of Barbados to BBB from BBB+.

From the S&P statement, highlighting mine:

Barbados Foreign Currency Credit Rating Lowered To ‘BBB’ From ‘BBB+’; Outlook Stable

The global economic crisis has pressured Barbados’ economic and fiscal performance and had a negative spillover effect on its sovereign debt trends.

— We are lowering our long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating on Barbados to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB+’.

— We expect the combination of prudent policymaking and strong, cohesive social policies will help Barbados through difficult economic times ahead, in line with its ‘BBB’ rated peers.

NEW YORK, June 10, 2009–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said today that it lowered its long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating on Barbados to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB+’. At the same time, we lowered our long-term local currency rating on Barbados to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘, and the foreign currency short-term rating to ‘A-3’ from ‘A-2’, while the local currency short-term rating was affirmed at ‘A-2’. Our transfer and convertibility assessment was revised downward to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘. The outlook is stable.

“As the global economic crisis spills over onto Barbados’ economic and fiscal future performance trends, the sovereign’s debt ratios, which already lag behind those of its ‘BBB+’ rated peers, will further diverge from the ‘BBB+’ median over the next few years, putting the country’s fundamentals and prospects more in line with ‘BBB’ rated sovereigns,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Olga Kalinina.

We expect Barbados’ economy to contract by 2.5% in 2009, followed by a flat performance in 2010, before gradually recovering to a 2.5% growth in 2011. In the meantime, the government fiscal policy is countercyclical, resulting in the projected increase in debt levels to 86% of GDP (on a gross level) and 46% (on a net level) in 2009. Importantly, with lower revenues, servicing of the debt is becoming more expensive, as interest payments are expected to rise to 12% of revenues this year from 9% in 2007–the highest level among the rating peers.

The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the government’s limited policy choices, especially in light of the peg on the Barbadian dollar and the country’s already high debt levels, coupled with its commitment to address the debt situation, will result in the government tightening its fiscal accounts from 2010 onward. We believe this will lead to stabilization in the government’s debt levels. The strength of the country’s institutional and social arrangements, and its well-funded Social Security scheme (which provides significant fiscal deficit financing) afford Barbados the credit support and stability necessary for the current rating level.

On the external front, we will closely watch the trends in Barbados’ international reserve levels in order to identify any potential stress on its external liquidity position and currency peg. While the build-up in the government’s external sinking fund alleviates its short-term, external-debt servicing needs, the ratings could come under downward pressure if reserve losses were to come in higher than projected and strain the country’s already weak external liquidity ratios. Also of concern is the drop in the international reserves’ coverage of the monetary base to 83% in 2008 from 102% in 2007; this is expected to fall further to 74% in 2009.

“Our future ratings actions will take into account the magnitude of any deterioration in the country’s economic and fiscal metrics, including those related to the resolution of CLICO Holdings (Barbados) Ltd.’s issue, as well as the level of public support for the government’s necessary fiscal consolidation measures over the next year and beyond,” added Ms. Kalinina.