Belfast Telegraph

Irish firms fear rating downgrade by agency

By Margaret Canning

A rating agency's wholesale review of Europe's state-owned companies and financial bodies led to some high-profile warning noises in the Republic.

Standard -amp; Poor's has put Firmus parent company Bord Gais, Northern Ireland Electricity-owner ESB and Dublin Airport Authority on negative watch which means the chances of downgrades at the firms have increased.

Many other state-owned firms across Europe took a hit.

It follows Standard -amp; Poor's downgrade of a number of eurozone countries as well as the European Financial Stability Facility.

The EFSF rating was taken down one notch from AAA to AA+.

Ireland's rating is currently on negative outlook, although its rating was not cut on Friday.

Klaus Regling, who heads up the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), said the Standard -amp; Poor's downgrade of the bailout fund will not impact on it.

France, which lost its AAA rating last week, is also a guarantor of the fund leaving it with just one country with a top rating supporting it - Germany.

Spain was lowered by two levels from A to AA-.

The downgrade of those and seven other countries meant there were not enough AAA-rated guarantors of the fund to maintain its top rating.

According to wire service Reuters, during a trip to Singapore to meet investors, Mr Regling said: "As long as it is only one rating agency there is no need to do anything really.

"You had the same situation when S-amp;P downgraded the US. The others did not follow. There was no market impact."

He said the EFSF has had no difficulty finding funding,

However, he admitted Asian investors were not as keen about the fund recently. They took up about 25% of a recent issuance, a drop from about 40% in an earlier one.

"We have to see whether it was an outlier or a new trend," he said, referring to the weaker demand.