Belfast Telegraph

Portuguese grade is 'B' for 'bailout most likely'

When I was at school a B+ was pretty respectable. Granted my school days are far behind me but surely the grade hasn't lost all of its shine? In the murky world of sovereign debt it seems it has.

Portugal is a nation struggling with its global financial perception nearly as much as our nearest neighbours in the Republic. Yesterday it was halfway down the road to Bailoutville, as a colleague recently described it, after a downgrading by the aptly named Moody's.

The credit ratings agency cut Portugal's rating by a mere one notch to Baa1 from A3.

It sounds like a grade I would have been running home to show my parents but it turns out the international money markets aren't so fond of anything beginning with a B.

When you realise it's just three places above junk you can see why everyone's so jumpy and why the interest rate on the country's five-year bonds has ballooned to around 10%.

Sulky Moody's reckon the next Portuguese government will seek a rescue package from the EU and the International Monetary Fund quicker than you can say 'obrigado'.

Not great news for a country whose prime minister, Jose Socrates, resigned last week - coincidentally on the same day yours truly arrived in the capital Lisbon - and which needs to refinance €4.3bn (£3.8bn) of debt later this month. Much like the Republic's bailout, Portugal's refinancing has been widely expected.

If it does go for a bailout, some semblance of confidence in its financial system will be restored and it can get on with trying to rebuild its economy.

In financial markets, confidence is everything and if restoring it means absorbing a blow or two, then it can sometimes be worth it.

Just look at the Republic's banks. Last week's stress test results initially saw their share prices plummet but the gradual realisation that the various asset sell-offs and refinancing would create more stable institutions has restored belief, at least partially.

So while Portugal might be struggling, it can take heart and learn some valuable lessons from Ireland's predicaments.

And having tasted some fine Portuguese cuisine last week, I've taken some valuable lessons in return.

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