The Last AAA Countries (And Those At Risk)

Print Email

Safe AAA:

1. Australia
> GDP per capita: $39,699.358

Australia was a solid AAA earlier this year and nothing has changed. Sure, it faces pressure from floods earlier this year, but the country is rich in natural resources that have to be used to build the world whenever the economy rises again. The low population of 21.5 million, an $882.4 billion GDP in 2010 projections, vast resource reserves, lower labor costs, and a low unemployment rate all act as a shield of global woes. Its public debt for 2010 was only projected to be 22.4% of GDP. The AAA rating is stable at S&P, and at Moody’s it’s Aaa with a stable outlook.

2. Canada
> GDP per capita: $39,057.444

Canada has a solid triple-A rating, and its deep trading ties to the U.S. does not jeopardize it, even if the U.S. has a troubled triple-A with a negative outlook. Canada has vast natural resources and its citizens mostly avoided the real estate and debt bubble that hurt the U.S. The population is under 34 million, its GDP is about $1.33 trillion, and public debt at the end of 2010 was a mere 34% or projected GDP. Neither Moody’s nor S&P have any issues with the triple-A ratings and stable outlook, and our take is that Canada is perhaps the safest triple-A rating of all nations in the Western Hemisphere.

3. Denmark
> GDP per capita: $36,449.554

Denmark has a relatively strong economy and claims a well educated population. The nation has a large dependence on foreign trade for goods and services and a small population of just over 5.5 million. Revised GDP data was put at $201.7 billion. What helped Denmark so much is that it had a surplus in its balance of payments before the government started spending to drive the economy. Its high property prices are a concern, as is a slowing trade environment. S&P has a solid AAA with a stable outlook and Moody’s has a Aaa with a stable outlook. The country has kept the Danish Kroner rather than officially joining the euro. Low birth rates, an aging population, taxation, immigration trends, and climate change are all risks for the small country longer-term by our count. However, Denmark has a sub-5% unemployment rate and a 2010 debt to GDP of only 46.6%. Denmark’s triple-A status remains firm here unless its services sector gets hit too hard with land prices all over again.

4. Germany
> GDP per capita: $36,033.284

Germany is still what we call “King of the Euro” with what is now just an undervalued Deutsche mark. With a population of 81.4 million and having the No.5 global economy, it cannot avoid leading the eurozone bailouts. GDP was $2.94 trillion in 2010 and its unemployment rate is healthy for a European nation. It also has a highly skilled labor force. The growing pains of absorbing East Germany are behind it and the ratings agencies bring no quarrel with its triple-A rating. Budget deficits, subsidies, tax cuts, aging population trends, immigration and the obvious leadership in eurozone bailouts do pose a risk. Still, public debt is tolerable at 78.8% of 2010 GDP. While any continued spending would pose longer-term risks, our take is that Germany will keep a triple-A rating longer than most nations.

5. Holland
> GDP per capita: $40,764.548

Holland, or The Netherlands, is in better shape than many eurozone countries. Its population is nearly 16.8 million and GDP is roughly $676.9 billion. A solid labor force, a surplus to its current account, and strong global industry all make it appear better than many eurorzone sister nations. High-tech exports, financial firms dominance, and its trade are all lags if and when the next recession takes hold. Budget deficits were high at 4.6% of 2009 targets and 5.6% of GDP in 2010 per earlier CIA data this year. Public debt is now projected at 64.6% of GDP and the ratings agencies have no current issues with the Dutch. Our take is that the triple-A rating has no severe risk as long as those dikes holding back the sea continue to work just fine.

6. Norway
> GDP per capita: $52,012.506

Norway has one of the best ratings going for it and the Economist Intelligence Unit gave it the only true AAA in earlier reports. The nation is rich in resources with a low population of almost 4.7 million people. GDP is highly dependent on the price of oil and was about $255.3 billion, and unemployment remains very low. Public debt was 47.7% of GDP. Norway is just about self-sufficient even if the climate of ‘welfare capitalism’ exists with close to 50% of exports being in oil. It also has the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund valued at more than $500 billion. S&P and Moody’s have no issue with the triple-A ratings, and we view Norway as being just fine unless oil and fish suddenly go out of style.

7. Singapore
> GDP per capita: $56,521.731

Singapore is the sole Southeast Asian nation with a solid triple-A rating. Despite a reliance on foreign trade exports, investors consider Singapore the safest place today for Asia. Its population is tiny at 4.74 million and its revised GDP is $291.9 billion. Singapore did not avoid the recession, but it also proved to bounce back the most. Public debt is artificially high at 102.4% of GDP but that is a government tie of the Central Provident Fund. Imagine this for austerity measures: Singapore has actually not borrowed to finance any government deficits since the 1980s. S&P and Moody’s have no issues with the AAA rating and outlook, nor should investors. The only obvious risks are military action, climate change, or an unknown geological event. Barring those, Singapore has as solid of a triple-A status as they come.

8. Sweden
> GDP per capita: $38,031.484

Sweden is the largest of Scandinavian nations with nearly 9.1 million people. GDP was $354.7 billion per revised 2010 CIA data. Public debt in 2010 was 40.8% of GDP, shockingly low for Europe and Scandinavia. The nation was also not wrecked by World War II due to its neutral-nation status. Still, the country does rely heavily on exports; it was not immune from the recession; and it has reformed some financial policies while recovering. Immigration and population trends have been an issue, but the ratings agencies actually have no issue with its triple-A status. For that matter, we can’t criticize the triple-A rating at this point.

9. Switzerland
> GDP per capita: $41,663.047

Switzerland has only grown in standing since the woes of Europe and the world have grown in 2011. The solid triple-A status appears to be immune to the happenings around its border nations. The world’s banking center has actually had to warn that it might intervene if its currency strengthens too much more because it cannot export if other currencies keep falling. The mountain nation has a population of just over 7.6 million and 2010 revised GDP of about $324.5 billion. Unemployment is shockingly low; public debt is still at 38.2% per revised 2010 data; its taxation is rather low; its healthcare system is a blended mechanism; there are barriers to getting citizenship; and a sensible retirement model all combine to offer no real threats at all to the triple-A rating here. The world can drive itself to hell, and Switzerland dominates.