Tuesday December 23 12:26 AM PST Bonds become 'fallen angels' By Parista Yuthamanop Moody's Investors Service yesterday downgraded Thai bonds to junk status, giving existing debt issues the status of "fallen angels'' -- investment-grade securities gone sour. Moody's lowered Thailand's foreign-currency rating to Ba1 from Baa3. The foreign-currency bank deposit rating was confirmed at B1. The action affects outstanding and future debt instruments issued by Thai corporations and state agencies, and will significantly increase the cost of new borrowing. The baht dropped slightly on news of the Moody's downgrade, with Bangkok Bank quoting a high of 47.20, a low of 46.40 and a close of 47.20 to the dollar. "The downgrade . . . reflects continued concern over the country's credit and financial fundamentals,'' the US credit agency said in a statement. "The new government has started a long and difficult adjustment process. However, domestic political conditions may limit progress in this area.'' Also downgraded were credit ratings for Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, with Moody's citing the increased strains on banking systems in the three countries because of slowed economic growth and currency turmoil. "The East Asian financial crisis has exposed the vulnerability to changes in market confidence of a number of countries that had built up high levels of short-term liabilities,'' Moody's said. "The outflow of funds from these markets and the resultant currency depreciations have added to problems in the banking sectors of these countries, some of which were already suffering from asset-quality problems.'' Moody's added that the economic difficulties in Japan had magnified the difficulties encountered throughout the region. "Weaknesses in the Japanese economy and banking system added a further, negative backdrop to the prospects for the region. Japan is a major trading partner of, investor in and lender to most of the countries in East Asia,'' the agency said. "Slow growth in Japan limits the prospects for rapid export growth from the other countries, while the problems of Japanese banks limit their ability to maintain lending activity in the region.'' Bank of Thailand governor Chaiyawat Wibulswasdi acknowledged that the downgrade resulted in Thai debt instruments being rated below investment grade. Still, other avenues existed for Thai borrowers which could mitigate the adverse costs of the downgrade, he said, including private placement of new debt issues or by syndicated loans. Dr Chaiyawat said it would be more difficult for both the government and local firms to borrow funds from international capital markets in the future. "The downgrade will raise interest rates throughout the market and affect investors. But that doesn't mean that we can't issue new bonds.'' It is widely expected that the government will be forced to issue new bonds in international capital markets to raise the funds needed to bail out the financial sector. The International Monetary Fund recently agreed to allow Thailand to raise the new government debt ceiling to $9 billion from $4 billion. If necessary, the central bank could borrow more from the IMF to supplement official foreign reserves under the supplemental reserve facility (SRF) next year. The IMF approved setting up the SRF last week as a quick assistance mechanism for countries struck with sudden balance of payments difficulties. Thailand this year will receive about $9 billion out of a total $17.2 billion arranged under the IMF package signed in August. Finance Minister Tarrin Nimmanhaeminda said he spoke with Moody's representatives yesterday, who explained that the downgrade of Thailand's credit rating stemmed from the regional currency crisis. While Moody's understood the strides taken by the government to address the economic problems, they viewed that the task had been made more complicated by the turmoil which had struck the region, he said. Dr Chaiyawat said Moody's was taking a regional perspective in its latest downgrade, viewing that Asian currency crisis would complicate Thailand's task of engineering an economic recovery. He said Thailand's economic fundamentals had shown signs of improvement. The current account deficit has contracted sharply in recent months, with a surplus posted in October, reflecting the country's reduced dependence on foreign capital. Dr Chaiyawat said the central bank was also moving aggressively to rebuild confidence in the financial sector, pushing undercapitalised firms to increase capital by the first quarter of 1998. Copyright Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd 1997. All the days Thai stories at The Bangkok Post Internet Edition. Posted at 10:02 p.m. PST Monday, December 22, 1997 Credit ratings of 3 tigers downgraded to `junk' BY TIMOTHY L. O'BRIEN New York Times Asia's economic crisis deepened Monday as one of the world's largest credit-rating agencies downgraded the sovereign debt of South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand to ``junk'' status, seriously impairing their ability to raise the money needed to work through the region's wrenching downturn. In issuing the downgrades, Moody's Investors Services Inc. said the region's prospects were further threatened by severe financial problems in Japan. If Japan's economy was more robust, it might be able to play a stronger role in resolving the Asian turmoil. But because Japan is also flailing, Moody's said, its consumers cannot provide a lift to Southeast Asian exports and its banks cannot increase the lending that is badly needed throughout the region. South Korean President-elect Kim Dae Jung said he was ``flabbergasted'' by the country's financial situation and that the country's reserves could hardly last for even one more day, the Chosun Ilbo said in its editions today. ``We don't know whether we would go bankrupt tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,'' Kim was quoted as saying. ``I can't sleep since I was briefed (about the financial situation). I am totally flabbergasted.'' The downgrade contributed to another sharp decline in Asia's stock markets and currencies Monday as the specter of wide-ranging and potentially disastrous defaults loomed closer in a region that has gone from economic darling to financial pariah. Stocks in Tokyo dropped 3.4 percent Monday to their lowest level since July 1995, while the Hong Kong market fell 2.2 percent and South Korean stocks dropped 1.2 percent. The South Korean currency, the won, fell 9.2 percent against the dollar. In early trading today, South Korean stocks plunged 7.5 percent and the won slumped another 12.4 percent. (The Japanese stock market was closed today for the emperor's birthday, a national holiday.) ``One of the key things we have to recognize is that as they recover and try to issue new debt, these countries will be limited in the markets into which they can sell,'' said David Durrant, an analyst with Idea, a financial consulting firm in New York. The downgrades had been expected, but since the investment guidelines of most managers prohibit holding junk-rated debt, the action caused a sell-off of the debt Monday. The junk ratings also mean that these big investors will not be buying more such debt. South Korea, for one, had planned to issue $9 billion in new sovereign debt in January, but that plan is now threatened by questions over who would buy the securities and whether the interest rates would be prohibitively expensive for South Korea. Moreover, while Moody's and other ratings agencies had issued less severe downgrades as the Asian crisis unfolded, this is the first time Moody's jointly downgraded a handful of countries in the region. Moody's also mildly downgraded Malaysia, while affirming ratings for China and Hong Kong. To compound the pain, Moody's also lowered ratings on the corporate debt of banks, financial services concerns and other formerly blue-chip borrowers in South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. Those actions included downgrading 5 Indonesian state banks; 11 Thai banks and financial services companies, and 20 Korean banks. The Standard & Poor's Corp., another large rating agency, added to the gloom by cutting South Korea's long-term foreign currency rating to junk status, saying that the country's liquidity position is ``among the worst of rated sovereigns'' and that the ``external liabilities of the banking sector are twice the sector's external assets.'' Although the world of debt ratings may seem arcane, the impact of a major downgrade is swift, unforgiving and very real. In much the same way that homeowners may have to cut back on groceries or scrimp on heating bills if forced to pay a higher interest rate on a mortgage, a country or a corporation is hurt when borrowing becomes more expensive. In South Korea, the Korea Development Bank, the largest state-owned bank, recently canceled a $2 billion bond offering when it became apparent that potential investors would demand an interest rate of as much as 11 percent. But that rate, which seemed Draconian just a few weeks ago, now looks relatively cheap. After the ratings cuts were announced, the interest rate on the Korea Development Bank's existing bonds due in 2006 shot up to about 12.7 percent, compared with about 11 percent Friday. Some of the bank's bonds due in 2001 traded Monday with interest rates ranging from 14.7 percent to 15.7 percent. Japan is by far the biggest source of loans to Asia and defaults in the region pose the most dire threat to that country. Although only partial information is available, it appears that about half of all external debt in Southeast Asia is held by the Japanese, with a much smaller portion, between 10 percent and 20 percent held by lenders in the United States, according to Moody's. )1997 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.
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