Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is Sovereign Debt the New Subprime?

Is Sovereign Debt the New Subprime?

Posted Dec 16, 2009 08:30am EST by Aaron Task in Investing, Recession, Banking

That’s a question many on Wall Street are asking as 2009 comes to a close. Just as many subprime borrowers were unable to make their mortgage payments in 2007 and 2008, investors now fear certain nations will be unable to pay their debts in the year ahead.

Rising mortgage defaults and credit card delinquencies put many banks on the brink of bankruptcy in 2008, sending the global economy into a tailspin. But sovereign debt defaults are potentially even more catastrophic as they can lead to geopolitical instability, societal unrest and even war. And there will also be economic ramifications for investors worldwide, putting America’s (and the globe’s) fragile recovery at great risk.

To varying degrees, Greece, Spain, Ukraine, Austria, Latvia, Mexico are just a handful of the nations viewed at risk of defaulting. Meanwhile, Dubai only just avoided a similar fate thanks to a $10 billion bailout from their oil-rich neighbor Abu Dhabi.

So, who else out there could rattle our constantly more interconnected world? Here's a look at where the trouble spots could be:

  • Greece: Fitch Ratings last week joined two other ratings agencies in expressing concern about the country’s health. “Greece faces the risk of sinking under its debt,” Prime Minister George Papandreou said Monday in a speech where he pledged to slash the nation’s budget deficit by overhauling the nation’s tax system and cutting government spending.
  • Ecuador, which defaulted in December 2008 when President Rafael Correa said the nation wouldn't make an interest payment of more than $30 million on a $510 million bond issue, carries a CCC+ rating at S&P. They define the debt issuers in the CCC category as "[c]urrently vulnerable and dependent on favorable business, financial and economic conditions to meet financial commitments." Translation: Probably in for hard times.
  • Argentina, Grenada, Lebanon, Pakistan and Bolivia are judged to be a little better off, but they're saddled with still dubious B- ratings. The single-B classification at S&P means these nations are "[m]ore vulnerable to adverse business, financial and economic conditions but currently [have] the capacity to meet financial commitments." Translation: Not good, and needs some things to go right, preferably soon.
  • Mexico: This week, S&P cut some of its ratings on America’s southern neighbor, but said the outlook is stable. Why the move? Because the agency believes Mexico's attempts to raise money through sources other than oil revenue and to make the economy more efficient "will likely be insufficient to compensate for the weakening of its fiscal profile." Put it on your watch list.Read more.


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