Wednesday, June 29, 2011

S&P To Cut U.S. Rating If Debt Payment Missed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States would immediately have its top-notch credit rating slashed to "selective default" if it misses a debt payment on August 4, Standard & Poor's managing director John Chambers told Reuters.

Chambers, who is also the chairman of S&P's sovereign ratings committee, told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. Treasury bills maturing on August 4 would be rated 'D' if the government fails to honor them. Unaffected Treasuries would be downgraded as well, but not as sharply, he said.

"If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D," Chambers said. "That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don't have a grace period."

Fears of a technical default have been rising after budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans fell apart in Washington earlier this week. Even a brief default by the United States would immediately increase the country's borrowing costs, weighing on the fragile economic recovery and eroding the dollar's status as a reserve currency.

On August 4, the Treasury Department is due to pay off $30 billion in maturing short-term debt.

With the debt talks stalled, new ideas are surfacing such as prioritizing debt payments. But Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned lawmakers on Wednesday that such a move would still cause investors to shun U.S. Treasury securities.

Geithner said that because the United States now borrows roughly 40 cents of every dollar it spends, prioritizing payments with no debt limit increase would require cutting 40 percent of all government expenditures.

S&P is not the first agency to say it will downgrade the United States if a payment is missed. Rival credit rater Moody's on June 2 was the first to say it would downgrade the United States shortly after a possible ceiling-related default, but not as deeply -- to the Aa range.

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