Here are two tiny little puzzles about Moody’s’s’s downgrade of the European Financial Stability Facility from Aaa to Aa1 just now. But first, here is some math on EFSF guarantees; basically every €100 of EFSF bonds has €165 of member guarantees, of which €103ish were Aaa-rated and €62ish were not. Until Moody’s downgraded France last week. Now it appears that each €100 EFSF bond has only €67 of Aaa guarantees, €36 of Aa1, and €62 of … various lesser things.
So the puzzles: first, this thing – the EFSF – is basically a structured credit product that is roughly two-thirds guaranteed by a Aaa thing, one-third guaranteed by an Aa1 thing, and roughly another two-thirds guaranteed by an assorted lower-rated miscellany that you can safely ignore. Should that make it (1) Aaa, (2) Aa1, or (4) other? S&P, as it happens, has a mechanism to sort of solve this, which is to say that a bond is rated by its probability of defaulting. Discarding the cats and dogs (and ignoring correlation questions), something that is 1/3 AA+ and 2/3 AAA has about an AA+ chance of defaulting: even if those AAAs are rock-solid, a default by that AA+ counts 100% as a default. Moody’s doesn’t have that – they, in theory, rate structured products1 based on expected loss, not just chances that there will be a default. So something that is two-thirds Aaa and one-third Aa1 is … at least arithmetically closer to Aaa than Aa1, is it not? (Especially if you assume the cats and dogs add a little bit of recovery.) But here you are stuck in a granular world: a thing that is two-thirds Germany and one-third France may be better than France, but I guess it’s also worse than Germany, so you gotta pick one or the other and I suppose pessimism is always a good look.
EFSF’s initial plan to issue a 3-year benchmark bond last week was postponed due to last week’s rating action by Moody’s which reduced France’s long-term debt rating from Aaa to Aa1. EFSF’s Deeds of Guarantee require that EFSF’s new issues, at the date of the issue, are covered 100% by guarantees of Member States with a rating, by each of the credit rating agencies, similar or better than the EFSF’s own rating. As a consequence of Moody’s rating decision on France, EFSF’s new long-term issuances (currently rated Aaa by Moody’s) would no longer satisfy this criteria.
That was from three days ago. Now the EFSF is Aa1-rated, and 100+% guaranteed by Aa1-or-better guarantors, so it can go back to the market. Do you think they asked for this downgrade?
1. Which the EFSF is?!
2. Weird because: why constrain yourself in this way? Is it because you trust the ratings agencies too much, or because you think that markets don’t trust them enough and you want to overdetermine your rating quality? Like, why can you issue as an extra-good Aa1 (what EFSF is now), but not as a not-so-hot Aaa (what they were yesterday)?