Ratings agency Fitch downgraded France from the top AAA credit rating on Friday, citing a heavier government debt load and poor prospects for growth. The outlook on the rating is stable.
In slashing France’s rating to ‘AA +’, Fitch became the last of the big three credit raters to knock France off the top perch. Last year Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Corporation (NYSE:MCO) also downgraded France from the AAA club.
France - Rising Debt-to-GDP Ratio
When Fitch downgraded Italy in early March from ‘A-’ to ‘BBB+’, the ratings agency was worried about the country’s level of debt-to-GDP rising from a previously estimated 125% to 130%. Fitch now sees France’s debt-to- GDP ratio rising from a previous estimate of 94% to 96% in 2014 and declining more slowly than originally expected, to 92% in 2017 compared with an original estimate of a decline to 90%.
Fitch said risks to the agency’s fiscal projections lie mainly to the downside, owing to the uncertain growth outlook and the ongoing Eurozone crisis, even assuming no wavering in commitment to fiscal consolidation. A debt ratio that is higher for longer reduces the fiscal space to absorb further adverse shocks.
Comparisons to USA
Comparing the country to the U.S., which Fitch still rates ‘AAA’, the agency notes the “exceptional financing flexibility and debt tolerance’ afforded by the U.S. dollar’s status as a global reserve currency is not available to France. By itself France can’t do anything to revalue the euro and if anyone thinks that Germany will ride to the rescue, well, don’t bet on it.
Industrial Production Figures Slip in EU
As for those “adverse shocks” that Fitch refers to, one came today in the industrial production figures released for the Eurozone. As long as the Eurozone continues to promulgate austerity over expansion, unemployment won’t fall, export demand won’t pick up, domestic spending will have to decrease, and competitiveness will slide. France is just now getting trapped in the same corral as Italy, Spain, and the rest of the Eurozone periphery. It’s an ugly picture.