Fitch sees more E.Europe downgrades

14:34, 05 February 2009
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After cutting Russia`s rating this week

Ratings agency Fitch expects more downgrades in emerging Europe after cutting Russia`s rating this week, it said on Thursday, warning political risk was a mounting threat to creditworthiness in the region, Reuters reported.

Head of emerging European sovereigns Edward Parker said that with nine countries in the region on negative outlook and the financial crisis deepening, creditworthiness in a string of countries was deteriorating.

"I would expect that we would see more negative ratings actions," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Parker said deepening economic pain and rising unemployment across the region heightened the risk of political instability and governments failing to take austerity measures out of fear of rising unrest.

"Clearly, there is going to be a rise in political risk," he said. "Obviously, political shocks by their nature are often unpredictable but as well as that we would be particularly concerned over the risk of governments failing to pursue prudent and responsible policies."

He would not say which country would likely be next to follow Russia, which on Wednesday suffered its first rating cut from Fitch in a decade on slumping reserves, corporate and banking problems and economic contraction.

But he said Fitch was watching the upcoming review of Ukraine`s International Monetary Fund deal particularly carefully.

Fitch has said previously that any failure of that deal would lead to a further negative move on Ukraine, which has suffered a currency slump and deep recession as its steel industry and banking sector suffered from the global financial crisis.

In contrast, he said that Turkey might be able to survive without an IMF deal with its current rating intact. Turkey has held back from concluding an IMF deal ahead of local elections.

"We would see an IMF deal as a positive development for Turkey," he said. "But if one was not agreed they might be able to find other financing and it would not alone be enough for negative ratings action."

Parker said Fitch was continuing to watch Russia closely in the aftermath of its downgrade, with ongoing low oil prices, any further loss of reserves, worsening of corporate balance sheets or difficulty refinancing debt or rising political risk potentially prompting further action.

Both Russia and Kazakhstan have allowed their currencies to depreciate after spending considerable reserves defending them. Parker said those devaluations had been necessary to take into account the drastic fall in oil prices.

With the Baltic states also entering deep recessions, some analysts believe their currencies -- either pegged or trading in narrow bands -- might also be forced to devalue.

Parker said this would potentially be negative for their ratings.

"It would make it more difficult for companies and others to repay foreign currency debt and it would undermine balance sheets," he said.

Currency falls in Central and Eastern Europe were already having a similar effect, he said, with the high proportion of foreign currency loans in Hungary making it more vulnerable than other regional economies such as Poland and the Czech Republic.

Reuters

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