Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Sovereign Risk and Bank Ratings

This post discusses the interplay between ratings assigned (principally by S&P's) to sovereigns and their banks. Bank Industry Country Risk Assessments (BICRA) ratings are the starting point for understanding risk in the banking industry. There is a previous blog post on BICRA methodologies here. BICRA ratings are relative measures of the industry risk and economic risk of a country's banking system. For BICRA, analysis of economic risk is based on similar indicators to those used by sovereign ratings experts. In sovereign ratings, CRAs look at economic structure, growth prospects and macro policy flexibility to assess the sovereign's ability and willingness to repay its public debts. For banks, the same factors are important in helping to form assessments about loan growth, asset quality and borrowers' ability to repay. The relationship between sovereigns and banks is a relationship that goes both ways - banks play an important role in channeling savings into investment, while operating in a financial system that is regulated by governments. At the same time, the embedded risk from the banking system can be important in gauging the contingent liability of a sovereign. So the relationship is an important one for the resulting ratings of both banks and sovereigns.

The impact of sovereign risk is most clearly seen in the economic risk assessment part of BICRA. Four out of the five analytical areas of sovereign analysis factor in to the 'economic resilience' assessment. The fifth sovereign factor, which is about external performance, features in the 'economic imbalances' score. Sovereign stress can also be factored into the assessment of credit risk in the case where a sovereign rating is falling sharply. At the same time, a sovereign in distress can weigh on the assessment of system wide funding within BICRA if it causes a negative feedback in the wholesale or cross border funding mechanism or the conditions for banking in a particular country. 

Some banks can be directly affected by a change in the sovereign rating. This can be the case where banks receive extraordinary government uplift in their ratings (if the government has provided a solid guarantee to the bank -it is "too big to fail") then a change in the rating of the sovereign may see an immediate change in the rating of the bank. At the same time, for banks whose SACP is at or above the sovereign rating, (there are not many of these but they do occur) there is a direct relation between the sovereign and the bank and once again, ratings can change very quickly on news of a downgrade. There can also be a more indirect impact in cases which involves evaluating how the new conditions in which the banks are operating affect the BICRA. At the same time, if the economic risk score changes, this can impact on a bank's capital position. Similarly, if asset quality worsens, it may also affect the bank's risk position and capital and risk position are some of the bank-specific factors in S&P's analysis. 

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