Any U.K. Downgrade Would Probably Only Be One Notch, S&P Says

  • S&P currently has AA rating on U.K. with negative outlook
  • Kraemer: Brexit talks breakdown would put pressure on pound

S&P Ratings would probably only downgrade the U.K. by one level if it had to take action on the credit rating because of Brexit, according to its chief ratings officer.

Speaking in London on Thursday, Moritz Kraemer also said that a breakdown in exit talks between the U.K. and the European Union -- which began just this week -- would have an impact on its analysis. S&P has taken the U.K. down two levels before; it did so when it stripped the country of its top AAA grade after the Brexit vote.

“Having these very highly rated sovereigns going down two notches -- that’s pretty unusual,” he said at a briefing with reporters. “That would be unusual going forward as well.”

The comments come after Kraemer said earlier this week that S&P could act on the U.K. rating before the conclusion of Brexit talks after a disastrous general election left Prime Minister Theresa May with a minority government. S&P has a negative outlook on the rating, meaning it could be lowered, and Kraemer said the company could make a decision outside of its scheduled calendar if developments warrant it.

“If you have a breakdown in the conversations, I think we have been pretty clear, this would not be positive for the rating,” Kraemer said Thursday. “A hard Brexit is a quite likely outcome,” and such a result is “almost the base case.”

Should the risk of the U.K. leaving the EU before securing a new relationship with the bloc increase, that would probably weaken sterling further, he said. The currency has fallen 15 percent against the dollar since the referendum -- which took place a year ago this week. It’s down 2 percent since the election on June 8.

“If you have a situation where you’re moving to a hard Brexit or a cliff-edge, there would be more pressure,” Kraemer said. “With further pound weakness, which could be a consequence of a hard Brexit scenario, this leg of growth -- private consumption -- would be pretty significantly hit. So would probably be investment.”

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