After lowering China’s credit ratings outlook to negative in March of 2016, Moody’s has now cut the country’s credit rating to A1 from Aa3. Moody’s cited a likely rise in China’s debt as the culprit. Bloomberg reports:
Stocks and the yuan slipped in early trading after Moody’s reduced the rating to A1 from Aa3 on Wednesday, with markets paring losses in the afternoon. Moody’s cited the likelihood of a “material rise” in economy-wide debt and the burden that will place on the state’s finances, while also changing the outlook to stable from negative.
It’s “absolutely groundless” for Moody’s to argue that local government financing vehicles and state-owned enterprise debt will swell the government’s contingent liabilities, according to a response released by the Ministry of Finance. The ratings company has underestimated the capability of the government to deepen reform and boost demand, the ministry said.
It wouldn’t be the first time a rating company was behind the curve, nor is such pushback unique — U.S. Treasury officials questioned the credibility of a 2011 downgrade from Standard & Poor’s. Still, the move underscores broader doubts over whether President Xi Jinping’s government can simultaneously cut excessive leverage and steady growth, all with a twice a decade reshuffle of top party posts looming later this year.
“It is a psychological blow that China will not take kindly to and absolutely speaks to the rising financial pressures,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen. That said, “it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things because so much of Chinese debt is held by state or quasi-state actors and minimal amounts are international investors.”
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