Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Fitch upgrades Indonesia

Fitch upgrades Indonesia
Published: 2010/01/26

HONG KONG: Fitch Ratings upgraded Indonesia's sovereign rating yesterday to one notch below investment grade, giving a vote of confidence that is likely to spur further investments in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

Indonesia's rating was raised to BB plus, with Fitch citing rising foreign exchange reserves, improving public finances and strong growth prospects as key factors behind the move. The outlook on the rating is stable.

The rupiah currency snapped back from early lows and spreads on Indonesian credit default swaps tightened after the upgrade of its long-term foreign and local currency ratings, and analysts said an investment grade rating was likely in the next few years.

"This (upgrade) reiterates what markets have been saying for a long time now, that Indonesia is a great credit story but it has some more work to do before getting that investment grade rating," said Kenneth Akintewe, a fund manager at Aberdeen Asset Management in Singapore who manages US$500 million (US$1 = RM 3.41) in assets.

Though foreign investors have been snapping up its bonds and stocks on its strong economic outlook as well as its high yield, analysts said high and volatile bouts of inflation and weak infrastructure meant its debt yields were close to those of Argentina - which has billions of US dollars in unsettled debt.

The stock market jumped over 80 per cent and bonds posted equity-like returns last year as investors have been attracted by the tantalising prospect that relatively stable politics and healthy economic growth could catapult the country to investment-grade status in a few years to stand alongside BRIC nations Brazil, Russia, India and China.

A US$2 billion Indonesian government bond sale earlier this month attracted US$4.5 billion in orders, bankers said.

Pimco, the world's biggest bond fund manager, recently said that it expects the economy to get an investment grade rating in the next three to five years.

The rupiah was the best performing Asian currency last year, gaining 17 per cent, and analysts are bullish about its prospects this year, too.

"I see capital gains for holding Indonesia's bonds with maturity above 10 years for long-term investors and the rupiah should also get a boost," Gunawan said.

Fitch now has the highest rating for Indonesia among the three major rating agencies, though it remains below its investment grade rating prior to the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Standard & Poor's rates Indonesia's unsecured foreign currency debt at BB minus, while Moody's Investors Service has its sovereign foreign currency rating at Ba2, two notches below investment grade.

The upgrade means it is the highest ranking non-investment grade country in Asia ahead of the Philippines and Vietnam.

Fitch noted, however, that the country's relatively shallow capital markets remained vulnerable to risks surrounding a reversal of carry trades or sudden emerging-market risk aversion. It also said more reforms in its financial sector were needed.

"The concerns on the ground are the success of the reforms. To get investment grade, the reforms would have to play out," said Wellian Wiranto, Asian economist at HSBC in Singapore. - Reuters

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