April 01, 2014

All triple-A ratings are doomed to be downgraded, sooner or later.

Sir, Ralph Atkins and Keith Fray report “Triple A government debt ratings fall as financial crisis takes toll” April 1. It could not be any other way as all triple A ratings are doomed to be downgraded.

The fact of combining the implied safety of a triple A rating with lower capital requirements for banks when holding such debt guarantees that, sooner or later, those so rated will receive too much debt in too lenient conditions, and will then wake up to a disaster.

In 2002 in an Op-Ed titled “The riskiness of country risk" I wrote: “What a difficult job sovereign credit rating is! If they overdo it and underestimate the risk of a given country, the latter will most assuredly be inundated with fresh loans and will be leveraged to the hilt. The result will be a serious wave of adjustments sometime down the line. If on the contrary, they exaggerate the country’s risk level, it can only result in a reduction in the market value of the national debt, increasing interest expense and making access to international financial markets difficult. The initial mistake will unfortunately turn out to be true, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any which way, either extreme will cause hunger and human misery.”