S&P's downgrades get calm market response

January 16, 2012 - 5:01 AM

LONDON (AP) — The decision by Standard & Poor's to cut the credit ratings of a number of euro countries and to strip France of its cherished top-tier standing met with a fairly calm market response Monday as attention turned towards Greece's difficulties in thrashing out a deal with private creditors to reduce the value of their holdings of Greek debt

Europe's debt crisis will likely remain the focus of attention across markets all week as a number of bond auctions are due at the same time as Greece tries to clinch a debt deal with its cast of creditors.

Monday is the first opportunity for traders to respond to S&P's move, which came late Friday.

Analysts said the downgrades had been widely expected, especially in the bond markets, so there was very little shock at S&P's announcement to strip France of its treasured triple-A rating and to cut its view on a raft of other euro countries, including Italy. One bright spot was that Germany, Europe's biggest economy, retained its triple-A rating and had its outlook upgraded to stable from negative.

"After weeks of prevarication and lots of rumors, Standard and Poor's finally put markets out of their misery on Friday," said Michael Hewson, markets analyst at CMC Markets. "The surprise is it took so long."

As a result, the response in the markets was fairly sanguine. In early trading Monday, the Stoxx 50 index of leading European shares was flat at 2,397 while the euro was up 0.2 percent on the day at $1.2670

A bigger headache for markets at the moment is whether Greece can clinch a deal with its creditors. Last October, Greece's partners in the eurozone sanctioned a deal whereby Greece's creditors agree a deal to reduce the value of their Greek debt holdings so that the country's debt burden is reduced.

The deal with private investors, known as the Private Sector Involvement, or PSI, aims to reduce Greece's debt by euro100 billion ($126.5 billion) by swapping private creditors' bonds for new ones with a lower value. It is a key part of a euro130 billion international bailout, the second one for Greece.

It is expected that talks on the PSI will resume this coming week. On Tuesday, representatives of Greece's creditors — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — will visit Greece for yet another round of inspections of its efforts at fiscal and structural reform and negotiations for the next tranche, the seventh, from the first bailout.

Negotiations over the second bailout will start after the PSI deal is clinched. Without a deal, Greece has been told it won't get the next tranche of money due from its first bailout.

Without that money, Greece would find it more or less impossible to pay a big bond redemption in March and would face the prospect of defaulting on its debts, potentially triggering more mayhem in financial markets.