Friday, August 5, 2011

The Full S&P Statement on the Downgrade of U.S. Government Debt

Below is the full statement issued by S&P, baked into this cake are the fear tactic hammers the new "Super Congress" will use to add tax increases to the deficit reduction plan that the group is charged to develop. -RW

•We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the United
States of America to 'AA+' from 'AAA' and affirmed the 'A-1+' short-term
rating.•We have also removed both the short- and long-term ratings from
CreditWatch negative.

•The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan
that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of
what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's
medium-term debt dynamics.

•More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,
stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political
institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic
challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a
negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

•Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the
gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us
pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be
able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal
consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any
time soon.

•The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the
long-term rating to 'AA' within the next two years if we see that less
reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new
fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government
debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

TORONTO (Standard & Poor's) Aug. 5, 2011--Standard & Poor's Ratings Services
said today that it lowered its long-term sovereign credit rating on the United
States of America to 'AA+' from 'AAA'. Standard & Poor's also said that the
outlook on the long-term rating is negative. At the same time, Standard &
Poor's affirmed its 'A-1+' short-term rating on the U.S. In addition, Standard
& Poor's removed both ratings from CreditWatch, where they were placed on July
14, 2011, with negative implications.
  The transfer and convertibility (T&C) assessment of the U.S.--our
assessment of the likelihood of official interference in the ability of
U.S.-based public- and private-sector issuers to secure foreign exchange for
debt service--remains 'AAA'.
We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the
prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related
fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the
growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an
agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and
will remain a contentious and fitful process. We also believe that the fiscal
consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration agreed to this week
falls short of the amount that we believe is necessary to stabilize the
general government debt burden by the middle of the decade.

 Our lowering of the rating was prompted by our view on the rising public
debt burden and our perception of greater policymaking uncertainty, consistent
with our criteria (see "Sovereign Government Rating Methodology and Assumptions
," June 30, 2011, especially Paragraphs 36-41). Nevertheless, we view the U.S.
federal government's other economic, external, and monetary credit attributes,
which form the basis for the sovereign rating, as broadly unchanged.
We have taken the ratings off CreditWatch because the Aug. 2 passage of
the Budget Control Act Amendment of 2011 has removed any perceived immediate
threat of payment default posed by delays to raising the government's debt
ceiling. In addition, we believe that the act provides sufficient clarity to
allow us to evaluate the likely course of U.S. fiscal policy for the next few
The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as
America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective,
and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt
ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in
the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our
view, the differences between political parties have proven to be
extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting
agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program
that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and
Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on
discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on
more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have
dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions
only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements,
the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key
to long-term fiscal sustainability.
 Our opinion is that elected officials remain wary of tackling the
structural issues required to effectively address the rising U.S. public debt
burden in a manner consistent with a 'AAA' rating and with 'AAA' rated
sovereign peers (see Sovereign Government Rating Methodology and Assumptions,"
June 30, 2011, especially Paragraphs 36-41). In our view, the difficulty in
framing a consensus on fiscal policy weakens the government's ability to
manage public finances and diverts attention from the debate over how to
achieve more balanced and dynamic economic growth in an era of fiscal
stringency and private-sector deleveraging (ibid). A new political consensus
might (or might not) emerge after the 2012 elections, but we believe that by
then, the government debt burden will likely be higher, the needed medium-term
fiscal adjustment potentially greater, and the inflection point on the U.S.
population's demographics and other age-related spending drivers closer at
hand (see "Global Aging 2011: In The U.S., Going Gray Will Likely Cost Even
More Green, Now
," June 21, 2011).
Standard & Poor's takes no position on the mix of spending and revenue
measures that Congress and the Administration might conclude is appropriate
for putting the U.S.'s finances on a sustainable footing.
The act calls for as much as $2.4 trillion of reductions in expenditure
growth over the 10 years through 2021. These cuts will be implemented in two
steps: the $917 billion agreed to initially, followed by an additional $1.5
trillion that the newly formed Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit
Reduction is supposed to recommend by November 2011. The act contains no
measures to raise taxes or otherwise enhance revenues, though the committee
could recommend them.
The act further provides that if Congress does not enact the committee's
recommendations, cuts of $1.2 trillion will be implemented over the same time
period. The reductions would mainly affect outlays for civilian discretionary
spending, defense, and Medicare. We understand that this fall-back mechanism
is designed to encourage Congress to embrace a more balanced mix of
expenditure savings, as the committee might recommend.
We note that in a letter to Congress on Aug. 1, 2011, the Congressional
Budget Office (CBO) estimated total budgetary savings under the act to be at
least $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years relative to its baseline
assumptions. In updating our own fiscal projections, with certain
modifications outlined below, we have relied on the CBO's latest "Alternate
Fiscal Scenario" of June 2011, updated to include the CBO assumptions
contained in its Aug. 1 letter to Congress. In general, the CBO's "Alternate
Fiscal Scenario" assumes a continuation of recent Congressional action
overriding existing law.
We view the act's measures as a step toward fiscal consolidation.
However, this is within the framework of a legislative mechanism that leaves
open the details of what is finally agreed to until the end of 2011, and
Congress and the Administration could modify any agreement in the future. Even
assuming that at least $2.1 trillion of the spending reductions the act
envisages are implemented, we maintain our view that the U.S. net general
government debt burden (all levels of government combined, excluding liquid
financial assets) will likely continue to grow. Under our revised base case
fiscal scenario--which we consider to be consistent with a 'AA+' long-term
rating and a negative outlook--we now project that net general government debt
would rise from an estimated 74% of GDP by the end of 2011 to 79% in 2015 and
85% by 2021. Even the projected 2015 ratio of sovereign indebtedness is high
in relation to those of peer credits and, as noted, would continue to rise
under the act's revised policy settings.
Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now
assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012,
remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority
of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise
revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act. Key
macroeconomic assumptions in the base case scenario include trend real GDP
growth of 3% and consumer price inflation near 2% annually over the decade.
 Our revised upside scenario--which, other things being equal, we view as
consistent with the outlook on the 'AA+' long-term rating being revised to
stable--retains these same macroeconomic assumptions. In addition, it
incorporates $950 billion of new revenues on the assumption that the 2001 and
2003 tax cuts for high earners lapse from 2013 onwards, as the Administration
is advocating. In this scenario, we project that the net general government
debt would rise from an estimated 74% of GDP by the end of 2011 to 77% in 2015
and to 78% by 2021.
Our revised downside scenario--which, other things being equal, we view
as being consistent with a possible further downgrade to a 'AA' long-term
rating--features less-favorable macroeconomic assumptions, as outlined below
and also assumes that the second round of spending cuts (at least $1.2
trillion) that the act calls for does not occur. This scenario also assumes
somewhat higher nominal interest rates for U.S. Treasuries. We still believe
that the role of the U.S. dollar as the key reserve currency confers a
government funding advantage, one that could change only slowly over time, and
that Fed policy might lean toward continued loose monetary policy at a time of
fiscal tightening. Nonetheless, it is possible that interest rates could rise
if investors re-price relative risks. As a result, our alternate scenario
factors in a 50 basis point (bp)-75 bp rise in 10-year bond yields relative to
the base and upside cases from 2013 onwards. In this scenario, we project the
net public debt burden would rise from 74% of GDP in 2011 to 90% in 2015 and
to 101% by 2021.
Our revised scenarios also take into account the significant negative
revisions to historical GDP data that the Bureau of Economic Analysis
announced on July 29. From our perspective, the effect of these revisions
underscores two related points when evaluating the likely debt trajectory of
the U.S. government. First, the revisions show that the recent recession was
deeper than previously assumed, so the GDP this year is lower than previously
thought in both nominal and real terms. Consequently, the debt burden is
slightly higher. Second, the revised data highlight the sub-par path of the
current economic recovery when compared with rebounds following previous
post-war recessions. We believe the sluggish pace of the current economic
recovery could be consistent with the experiences of countries that have had
financial crises in which the slow process of debt deleveraging in the private
sector leads to a persistent drag on demand. As a result, our downside case
scenario assumes relatively modest real trend GDP growth of 2.5% and inflation
of near 1.5% annually going forward.
When comparing the U.S. to sovereigns with 'AAA' long-term ratings that
we view as relevant peers--Canada, France, Germany, and the U.K.--we also
observe, based on our base case scenarios for each, that the trajectory of the
U.S.'s net public debt is diverging from the others. Including the U.S., we
estimate that these five sovereigns will have net general government debt to
GDP ratios this year ranging from 34% (Canada) to 80% (the U.K.), with the
U.S. debt burden at 74%. By 2015, we project that their net public debt to GDP
ratios will range between 30% (lowest, Canada) and 83% (highest, France), with
the U.S. debt burden at 79%. However, in contrast with the U.S., we project
that the net public debt burdens of these other sovereigns will begin to
decline, either before or by 2015.
Standard & Poor's transfer T&C assessment of the U.S. remains 'AAA'. Our
T&C assessment reflects our view of the likelihood of the sovereign
restricting other public and private issuers' access to foreign exchange
needed to meet debt service. Although in our view the credit standing of the
U.S. government has deteriorated modestly, we see little indication that
official interference of this kind is entering onto the policy agenda of
either Congress or the Administration. Consequently, we continue to view this
risk as being highly remote.
The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. As our downside
alternate fiscal scenario illustrates, a higher public debt trajectory than we
currently assume could lead us to lower the long-term rating again. On the
other hand, as our upside scenario highlights, if the recommendations of the
Congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction--independently or
coupled with other initiatives, such as the lapsing of the 2001 and 2003 tax
cuts for high earners--lead to fiscal consolidation measures beyond the
minimum mandated, and we believe they are likely to slow the deterioration of
the government's debt dynamics, the long-term rating could stabilize at 'AA+'.
On Monday, we will issue separate releases concerning affected ratings in
the funds, government-related entities, financial institutions, insurance,
public finance, and structured finance sectors


  1. Did the Dear Leader (Matt Damon) approve of this?

  2. All very nice reading with my Saturday coffee. Who cares what the rating agencies think. Any one with a bit of common sense can see the problems. Crappy paper money used to steal our futures, print, print, print, you useless dummy Bernanke. My rating agency uses a pick and shovel, combined with sweat to produce the only thing that is lasting in value, gold. These people just hold up the edifice of greed a while longer, the end will come, paper burns.

  3. And those on the Left would have us all believe it's because Congress bickers. That just isn't so. It's because Congress bickers so much that they'll never agree on which cuts to make how deeply. The Congressional Left doesn't want to make any cuts. They don't want to admit that Obamacare is horribly expensive, not to mention illegal. Their Utopian pie-in-the-sky dreams are unsustainable. So says S&P.