Was the Greece Credit Rating Upgrade Ignored?

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It was not that long ago that credit ratings agencies ruled the roost for troubled countries in the lands of the PIIGS. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain were all deeply troubled, and Greece was the most troubled of all the PIIGS countries. But then things started to stabilize after waves of bailout assistance and after the European Central Bank imposed massive quantitative easing measures.

Late on Friday came word that Fitch Ratings raised the credit rating for Greece to B- from CCC and that its view is Outlook Positive.

An upgrade is one thing, but a Positive outlook implies that more upgrades are currently possible. It was a bit surprising that the key Greek stock ETF has not reflected much of a move.

Fitch said it believes Greece’s general government debt sustainability will steadily improve, underpinned by ongoing compliance with the terms of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) program. Also noted as reasons were reduced political risk in Greece, sustained economic growth, and more fiscal measures legislated to take effect through 2020.

Greece has been an easy nation to bash for how it manages its finances. Still, maybe even countries such as Greece can eventually get their act together if forced. Fitch noted that Greece’s public finances are improving, with a primary surplus of 3.9% of gross domestic product in 2016 versus an ESM program target of 0.5%. Fitch is targeting the Greek government to have an average primary surplus of 2.8% of GDP from 2017 to 2019.

Other positives were also cited. These included pent-up investment demand and a declining unemployment rate after peaking north of 20%. A continued clearance of government arrears are also said to be setting the stage to support domestic demand. Externally, growth recovery in the eurozone is expected to support Greece’s export performance.

Fitch said about its outlook remaining positive:

The Positive Outlook reflects Fitch’s expectation that the third review of the adjustment program will be concluded without creating instability and that the Eurogroup will grant substantial debt relief to Greece in 2018. In its statement on 15 June 2017, the Eurogroup confirmed its commitment to implementing a set of debt relief measures aimed at keeping gross financing needs below 15% of GDP in the medium term and below 20% of GDP thereafter. This should support market confidence, which will help support post-program market access. In Fitch’s view, the political backdrop has become more stable and the risk of any future government reversing policy measures adopted under the ESM program is limited.

The Global X MSCI Greece ETF (NYSEMKT: GREK) has barely noticed that Greece took a big upgrade. Its shares were up 0.6% at $10.38 on Monday, in a 52-week range of $6.90 to $10.79. Its price was at $10.40 just a week ago and the last day it was under $10.00 was back on ‎June ‎27.