Another blow for Jamaica from S&P

Hot on the heels of the decision by Standard & Poor’s to slash Jamaica’s sovereign rating comes this announcement from the rating agency:

S&P: National Commercial Bank Jamaica Counterparty Credit Rating Lowered To ‘CCC’; Survivability Assessment Lowered To ‘B’

* On Nov. 2, 2009, we lowered the long-term sovereign rating on Jamaica to ‘CCC’ from ‘CCC+’.
* We are lowering our ratings on NCB, including the long-term counterparty credit rating, to ‘CCC’ from ‘CCC+’. We are also lowering our survivability assessment on NCB to ‘B’ from ‘B+’.
* The outlook on NCB remains negative, mirroring that on Jamaica, as a result of the bank’s concentration in government debt securities and loans to public entities in the country.

MEXICO CITY Nov. 4, 2009–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said today that it lowered its ratings on National Commercial Bank Jamaica Ltd. (NCB), including the long-term counterparty credit rating, to ‘CCC’ from ‘CCC+’. At the same time, we lowered our survivability assessment on NCB to ‘B’ from ‘B+’, as assigned on Aug. 6, 2009. The outlook is negative.

[In rating agency speak, the survivability assessment is “a current opinion on the likelihood that over the medium-term, a bank will either directly or through a successor organization, remain in operation, regardless of whether it is solvent or insolvent, paying all of its obligations on a timely basis or not.”

Moreover: “A relatively low survivability assessment does not constitute an opinion by Standard & Poor’s that a particular bank is likely to fail; rather it indicates a vulnerability to adverse circumstances which could affect the bank’s ability to meet its financial obligations on a timely basis, without special circumstances which would clearly enhance the likelihood that it would continue to operate in such an event. ”

And here’s what S&P means by a “B” rating in this area: “A bank with a survivability assessment of ‘B’ is VULNERABLE. Adverse business, financial or economic conditions will likely impair the bank’s ability to maintain operations in which case the bank may become subject to regulatory intervention.”]

The rating action followed the downgrade of the long-term sovereign credit rating on Jamaica (CCC/Negative/C) to ‘CCC’ from ‘CCC+’.

“NCB has a very large exposure to Jamaican sovereign-debt securities and loans to public entities,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Alfredo Calvo. “Also, Jamaica’s deteriorating economic situation and the more-challenging conditions for the Jamaican banking system will continue to pressure the financial performance of the bank.”

The action on the survivability assessment was based on the downgrade of NCB and our view that vulnerabilities in the government’s debt profile have grown significantly from previous years, narrowing the government’s capacity to support the bank in times of stress.

However, we are still maintaining our survivability assessment at three notches higher than the counterparty credit rating on NCB. This reflects our continuing expectation that the government could give certain assistance to the bank if needed because of NCB’s significant market share in the country, adequate financial performance, and large branch network and deposit base.

If the liquidity and market share of the bank shrink significantly, we could further adjust our survivability assessment.

The ratings on NCB are limited by the bank’s large exposure to Jamaica’s government; greater loan concentration than peers; operation within a relatively small and nondiversified economy with high debt; and the more challenging environment for the Jamaican banking system.

However, the bank’s leading market presence in the Jamaican banking system, adequate but pressured performance under more-challenging conditions, and consistent improvements in its operating performance support the rating.