Banks ride out ratings downgrade
Britain's banks have ridden out the latest blow to confidence in the sector after 15 of the world's biggest institutions were downgraded by Moody's.
Barclays, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland were among those targeted by the ratings agency because of their exposure to the escalating eurozone crisis.
But banks - which had been bracing themselves for the downgrade since February - downplayed the impact, insisting the sector had taken action to ensure they were strong enough to withstand financial shocks.
There are concerns that the move by Moody's will add to funding pressures for credit-hit banks, potentially making it harder for them to borrow money commercially.
RBS criticised the Moody's downgrade as a "backward-looking" change, which it said failed to recognise "substantial improvements" to the group's balance sheet, funding and risk profile. It estimated the ratings change could mean it would need to find an extra £9 billion in collateral for its debts.
The British Bankers' Association (BBA) assured that UK banks had already made "wide-reaching reforms" and strengthened their balance sheets. A BBA spokesman said: "They are well capitalised so able to withstand future financial difficulties and have plans in place which will prevent taxpayers having to step in in the future.
"Their exposure to problems in the eurozone is also very limited. Moody's' assessment reflects overall concerns about the current ongoing issues in the eurozone rather than the organisations themselves."
Bank shares avoided heavy falls after the widely-expected downgrades, with Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland down 1% and HSBC less than 1% lower.
Taxpayer-backed Lloyds Banking Group saw its shares largely unchanged after it was left off the list of Moody's major downgrades. Its short-term prime rating was unchanged, while Moody's lowered Lloyds' long-term ratings by one notch.
The Moody's downgrades reflect fears that the banks' growth and profit prospects are declining and raised speculation that it could spark a rise in mortgage interest rates.