S&P Cuts the US Credit Rating – An Era is Over

Standard & Poor’s announced Friday night that it has downgraded the US  credit rating for the first time, dealing a symbolic blow to the world’s economic superpower, making history and marking the end – or the beginning – of a financial era.

“Global financial markets will reopen on Monday to a changed reality. There are immediate operational consequences, from re-coding risk and trading systems to evaluating collateral and liquidity management.”

PIMCO

So, now the unthinkable have happened. The world’s only financial superpower has lost its triple-A rating. What happens now, is anybody’s guess. But one thing is absolutely certain: When the markets opens on Monday, there will be a frenetic activity and level of fear we have not seen before.

The reason for lowering the US credit rating to one notch below AAA, is a result of “political brinkmanship” in the debate over the debt, something that has made the US government’s ability to manage its finances “less stable, less effective and less predictable,” the credit rating company says.

According to The Washington Post, the bipartisan agreement reached this week to find at least $2.1 trillion in budget savings “fell short” of what was necessary to tame the nation’s debt over time and predicted that leaders would not be likely to achieve more savings in the future.

“It’s always possible the rating will come back, but we don’t think it’s coming back anytime soon,” says David Beers, head of S&P’s government debt rating unit.

The decision came after a day of furious back-and-forth debate between the Obama administration and S&P.

Treasury Department officials fought back hard, arguing that the firm’s political analysis was flawed and that it had made a numerical error in a draft of its downgrade report that overstated the deficit over 10 years by $2 trillion.

Officials had reviewed the draft earlier in the day.

“A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself,” a Treasury spokesman said Friday night.

The downgrade to AA+ will push the global financial markets into uncharted territory after a volatile week fueled by concerns over a worsening debt crisis in Europe and a faltering economy in the United States.

The AAA rating has made the US Treasury bond one of the world’s safest investments — and has helped the nation borrow at extraordinarily cheap rates to finance its government operations, including two wars and an expensive social safety net for retirees.

Treasury bonds have also been a stalwart of stability amid the economic upheaval of the past few years.

The nation has had a AAA rating for 70 years.

Analysts say that, over time, the downgrade could push up borrowing costs for the U.S. government, costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. It could also drive up interest rates for consumers and companies seeking mortgages, credit cards and business loans.

A downgrade could also have a cascading series of effects on states and localities, including nearly all of those in the Washington metro area. These governments could lose their AAA credit ratings as well, potentially raising the cost of borrowing for schools, roads and parks, the Washington Post writes.

But the exact effects of the downgrade won’t be known until at least Sunday night, when Asian markets open, and perhaps not fully grasped for months. Analysts say the initial effect on the markets could be modest because they have been anticipating an S&P downgrade for weeks.

Here’s the full statement from S&P’s:

Federal officials are also examining the impact of a downgrade in large but esoteric financial markets where U.S. government bonds serve an extremely important function. They were generally confident that markets would hold up but were closely monitoring the situation. Regulators said that the downgrade would not affect how banking rules treat Treasury bonds — as risk-free assets.

Here’s the full statement:

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
National Credit Union Administration
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

Agencies Issue Guidance on Federal Debt

Earlier today, Standard & Poor’s rating agency lowered the long-term rating of the U.S. government and federal agencies from AAA to AA+. With regard to this action, the federal banking agencies are providing the following guidance to banks, savings associations, credit unions, and bank and savings and loan holding companies (collectively, banking organizations)

For risk-based capital purposes, the risk weights for Treasury securities and other securities issued or guaranteed by the U.S. government, government agencies, and government-sponsored entities will not change. The treatment of Treasury securities and other securities issued or guaranteed by the U.S. government, government agencies, and government-sponsored entities under other federal banking agency regulations, including, for example, the Federal Reserve Board’s Regulation W, will also be unaffected.

(And just for the fun of it: Here’s US Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, in an interview recorded in April this year, saying that there is “no risk” that the US will lose its AAA credit rating).

Amongst the first comments, is the worlds largest bond investor, PIMCO:

There will be endless debate on whether S&P, the rating agency, was justified in stripping America of its AAA rating and — adding insult to injury — even attaching a negative outlook to the new AA+ rating. But this historic action has now taken place, and the global system must adjust. There are consequences, uncertainties, and a silver lining.

Not so long ago, it was deemed unthinkable that America could lose its AAA. Indeed, “risk free” and “US Treasuries” were interchangeable terms — so much so that the global financial system was constructed, and has operated on the assumption that America’s AAA was a constant at the core, and not a variable.

Global financial markets will reopen on Monday to a changed reality. There are immediate operational consequences, from re-coding risk and trading systems to evaluating collateral and liquidity management. Key market segments will be closely watched, including the money market complex and the reaction of America’s largest foreign creditors.

Meanwhile, for the real economy, credit costs for virtually all American borrowers will be higher over time than they would have been otherwise. Animal spirits, already hobbled by the debt ceiling debacle, will again be dampened, constituting yet another headwind to the generation of investment and employment.

It is hard to imagine that, having downgraded the US, S&P will not follow suit on at least one of the other members of the dwindling club of sovereign AAAs. If this were to materialise and involve a country like France, for example, it could complicate the already fragile efforts by Europe to rescue countries in its periphery.

The future role of rating agencies will also now come under close scrutiny, bringing to the fore the question of who rates the rating agencies? S&P’s action will likely unite governments in America and Europe in an effort to erode their monopoly power and operational influence. This will also force all investors to do something that they should have been doing for years: conduct their own ratings due diligence, rather than rely on outsiders.

More worryingly, there will now be genuine uncertainties as to wider systemic impact of this change. With America occupying the core of the world’s financial system, Friday’s downgrade will erode over time the standing of the global public goods it supplies – from the dollar as the world’s reserve currency to its financial markets as the best place for other countries to outsource their hard-earned savings. This will weaken the effectiveness of the US as the global anchor, accelerating the unsteady migration to a multi polar system while increasing the risk of economic fragmentation.

These factors will play out over time, and will possibly do so in a non-linear fashion. Some of the immediate impact will be forestalled by the fact that no other country is able and willing to replace the US at the core of the global system. Other than a general increase in risk premia and volatility, it is therefore hard to predict with a high degree of conviction how the global system will react. Specifically, will it simply come to a new normality, with an AA+ at its core, or are further structural changes now inevitable?

Read the rest at Zero Hedge.

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