Credit ratings, like Bugattis, are only owned by the rich and/or seriously indebted.
Contrary to popular opinion, buying a camcorder at Harvey Norman on an easy payment plan won’t secure a credit rating. But issue a few billion dollars worth of corporate or government bonds, and the ratings agencies might take an interest.
Rating agencies are just analysts with a specialty focus on credit-worthiness. Until now, United States debt has been judged as safe as French, Norwegian and Australian debt.
Moody’s still thinks it is, but rival Standard & Poors took a dim view of last week’s fiasco in Congress.
By downgrading the US for the first time ever, S&P now believes US Treasuries are riskier assets than some corporate bonds. And that’s big news.
Markets had the weekend to stew on the downgrade with Australia the first significant equity market to open. It wasn’t pretty at the opening bell – the main indices fell around 100 points, before staging a remarkable rally back to nearly par.
Then the Hong Kong market killed the party atmosphere by collapsing. It was downhill all the way after that, with local losses big enough to make headlines in the evening news bulletins. Expect to see sombre faces talking about the end of civilisation as we know it.
Early signs are for further falls on Wall Street, which will make tomorrow even more interesting here. Media commentators, as they do, will gloss over the fact Australia’s AAA credit rating is intact. There’s little analysis of our listed company sector, which is still showing resilience against the backdrop of crap consumer spending. The falling local currency also adds some spice to the upside mix.
But gloom and doom make for a more entertaining media spectacle than reality, so don’t expect to hear anything positive for a few days at least.