Fears of third NZ credit downgrade

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 16:20 18/10/2011

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Finance Minister Bill English says he met Moody's rating agency during a recent visit and they seemed to be focusing on the same issues as the other agencies.

That raises fears of a third downgrade for New Zealand.

The Government's credit rating was downgraded from AA+ to AA by agencies Fitch and Standard and Poor's on September 30.

Moody's currently has New Zealand's sovereign debt at AAA.

English said he had no indication when Moody's was likely to report, but it has earlier been reported that is likely before the November 26 election.

"They are caught up in the same kind of mood as the other rating agencies where they 're putting any country with debt under the microscope. I see in the last few days they've just warned France or Italy or somebody," he said.

"So the rating agencies are on the move. But they didn't give any indication of what they might think about New Zealand, but they focused on the same issues as the other agencies," English said.

"We just get on with our policy and they make their decisions. We pointed out the same things to them as the others, which was that New Zealand's external position had improved quite a bit in the last three years."

There had been quite a shift in savings behaviour that would pay off in the current account.

On the other hand rating agencies were operating in a world sensitive to debt.

"They are looking at downgrading AAA countries, so it's a pretty different environment."

He hoped Moody's maintained their focus on government debt, and did not take the same approach as the other agencies who looked at overall external debt, because the Moody's approach had kept the country on AAA.

The Government's net debt at 20 per cent and gross debt at 36 per cent is relatively low by OECD standards, but private sector debt lifts the country's net debt to 70 per cent.

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