Global creditors quiz rating agencies over debt relief to the poorest

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Global creditors and Moody’s, Fitch and S&P Global Ratings met on Wednesday (7 February) to discuss rating agencies’ actions after debt relief provided by official creditors to some of the world’s poorest nations, a source said on Thursday.

The meeting also discussed methodology on credit action in the event countries carry out a debt swap and in other debt situations, the source familiar with the situation added.

The role of the agencies came into focus in 2020 when the economic fallout from COVID-19 pushed dozens of poor nations into debt distress.

The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) launched in April 2020 by the G20 group of nations allowed the temporary suspension of government-to-government debt payments for the poorest nations.

However, countries that applied for relief were punished with downgrade warnings and negative statements from ratings agencies, which added to the poorest countries’ borrowing costs and riled governments.

Although in theory only tasked with rating the commercial part of borrowing, the agencies cited the G20’s call for private sector creditors to participate in the initiative.

The virtual meeting – which was held in three consecutive sessions with each ratings agency – was part of the Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable that brings together representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and G20 to tackle issues surrounding sovereign debt.

The roundtable was launched to tackle issues after countries that have tipped into default since 2020 struggled to make progress in their debt restructuring efforts.

Spokespeople for Moody’s and S&P Global Ratings declined to comment. A spokesperson for Fitch did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the next technical meeting of the roundtable in March would revisit “Comparability of Treatment” (COT) issues in the hope of making progress on the issue ahead of the IMF World Bank Spring meetings in April.

A principle from the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations, COT aims to ensure its members do not give outsized concessions compared to private lenders or others outside the group. But a disagreement over how to asses this derailed Zambia’s debt restructuring deal with its bondholders in November.

Wednesday’s gathering was attended by representatives from the Institute for International Finance, the International Capital Markets Association, financial firms BlackRock and Standard Chartered as well as Zambia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Suriname, Sri Lanka, and Ecuador.

Credit: Reuters

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