20 Oct 2011

PM not ruling out third credit downgrade

5:45 am on 20 October 2011

Prime Minister John Key says he can't rule out a third credit downgrade after a visit by ratings agency Moody's to New Zealand.

On 30 September, Fitch Ratings lowered New Zealand's credit rating by one notch to AA, citing the country's rising debt and persistent and widening current account deficits.

Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's rating one notch from AA+ to AA later the same day.

Moody's currently rates New Zealand's sovereign debt as AAA.

Mr Key said on Wednesday he would not rule out a third downgrade, given the actions of the other agencies and the fact Moody's has been downgrading other countries recently.

The Labour Party says the Government's economic policies are unlikely to convince Moody's not to downgrade New Zealand's credit rating.

Leader Phil Goff says a negative signal from Moody's would explain the release of National's plan on Tuesday to introduce auto-enrolment for all employees in KiwiSaver in 2014 if re-elected in November.

"There's got to be an explanation for the panicked release on a half-baked savings policy that they released. I suspect it's because the signal they have from Moody's is they have the same concerns about the New Zealand economy as Fitch and Standard and Poor's."

At present, only new employees are automatically enrolled for the savings scheme.

Agencies sensitive to debt - English

Finance Minister Bill English says Moody's raised the same issues as other agencies when he met with their representatives recently.

Mr English says the representatives raised the same concerns as Fitch and Standard & Poor's, but gave no indication about what they thought about New Zealand.

Mr English says he pointed out, as he had to the other agencies, that New Zealand's external position has improved quite a bit in the past three years and there is an indication of a shift in savings behaviour.

However, he says the ratings agencies are in a world very sensitive to debt - in particular sovereign debt - and are looking to downgrade AAA countries.

Moody's has issued a warning about France's credit rating this week, saying it may may change its "stable" outlook on the country's top AAA rating to "negative" in coming months.

The agency has also downgraded the rating of Spain's government bonds, cutting Spain two notches to A1 two days after Standard and Poor's took the same decision.