Rating agencies warn oil slump could trigger blizzard of downgrades

LONDON - The world’s top rating agencies said on Tuesday that the sharp drop in oil prices, if sustained, could cause a wave of sovereign downgrades as well as heavy multi-notch rating cuts to junk-rated oil and gas firms.
 
Fitch’s top Middle East and Africa sovereign analyst, Jan Friederich, told Reuters that with oil prices dropping as low as $31 a barrel this and likely to stay low, countries from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Oman to Nigeria and Angola were all in focus.
 
“Countries that are in a somewhat vulnerable external position and have a fixed exchange rate are of course particularly vulnerable,” Friederich said.
 
On individual countries, he said Saudi Arabia’s financial reserves and its sovereign wealth fund provided a buffer but that there was not “infinite leeway” in the country’s A (stable) rating for the buffers to disappear.
 
A continued rise in government debt in Oman “would be a concern” he added, while Nigeria’s B+ (negative) rating could face problems if a prolonged attempt to defend the country’s currency peg ate heavily into its international reserves.
 
Commodity dependence is most pronounced globally in Angola, Iraq, Suriname and Gabon, Fitch analysis shows and there are a dozen more developing countries for whom commodities exceed 70% of foreign-currency income.
 
Reuters

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