By Kyriacos Kyriacou – Nicosia
Cyprus has an “elevated risk of default in the medium-term” Moody’s ratings agency said on Wednesday, despite the island’s good performance in the bailout adjustment programme.
The rating agency said the main challenge facing the Cypriot authorities is helping the banks deal with their high percentage of non-performing loans (NPLs), one third of which represent household loans. Moody’s said that even though the restructuring process of the banking sector is under way, the actions that the authorities and the Troika have identified to lower the high NPL levels have not yet been fully implemented.
In a report, Moody’s Investors Service said Cyprus’ Caa3 rating with a positive outlook, reflected the “ongoing credit risks relating to the sustainability of the country’s public finances, as well as the resulting elevated risk of default in the medium-term.” Moody’s said its report was an update to the markets and does not constitute a rating action.
On the fiscal side, the primary deficit has narrowed from 3.2 per cent of GDP in 2012 to 2.0 per cent of GDP in 2013, which is below the target set under the Troika’s Programme. The government has also improved its debt-amortisation profile by repaying early a bond due to mature in 2017, thanks to the proceeds raised from international markets, the agency said.
However, the historically high indebtedness and decreasing incomes have stretched Cypriot households’ creditworthiness over the last few years, and whilst cost-competitiveness has improved, it has not translated into stronger export performance. Moody’s considers it unlikely that there will be any meaningful economic recovery before 2016.
“While the 2013 economic contraction was more benign than expected, the recession could be more protracted in the context of high unemployment, reduction in wages, erosion of savings, and the restructuring of the banking sector,” it said.
Moody’s also regards banking sector risk as Very High in Cyprus primarily because of the low baseline credit assessments assigned to rated banks in the system and also because of the significant size of the banking sector, as defined by total assets as a percentage of GDP, which stood at around 485 per cent of GDP in May 2014.
Delia to be replaced
Meantime, according to information, Delia Velculescu, IMF’s Mission Chief for Cyprus will be moving on to another assignment at the end of September, as part of her regular career progression, the organization said on Wednesday. The move comes after two and a half years as the IMF’s chief overseeing the island’s bailout adjustment programme. It is expected to take place once the fifth review was finished. She will be replaced by Mark Lewis, a US national who has been with the Fund since 1995. Lewis has had a number of country responsibilities during his career at the IMF, including Russia, Morocco, Armenia, and Turkey.
He will lead the team that will conduct the sixth review of the program later in the autumn.