The U.S. had its AAA credit rating downgraded for the first time by Standard & Poor's on concern spending cuts agreed on by lawmakers to raise the nation's borrowing limit won't be enough to reduce record deficits.
S&P dropped the ranking one level to AA+, after warning on July 14 that it would reduce the rating in the absence of a “credible” plan to lower deficits even if the nation's $14.3 trillion debt limit was lifted. The U.S. was awarded the top credit rating by New York-based S&P in 1941. It kept the outlook at “negative.”
“The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics,” S&P said in a statement Friday.
Demand for Treasuries has surged even with the specter of a downgrade as investors saw few alternatives to the traditional refuge during times of risk as concern increased global growth is slowing and Europe's sovereign debt crisis is spreading. The action could still hurt the U.S. economy over time by increasing the cost of mortgages, auto loans and other types of lending tied to the interest rates paid on Treasuries.
J.P. Morgan Chase estimated that a downgrade would raise the nation's borrowing costs by $100 billion a year.
Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings affirmed their AAA credit ratings on Tuesday, the day President Barack Obama signed a bill that ended the debt-ceiling impasse that pushed the Treasury to the edge of default. Moody's and Fitch also said that downgrades were possible if lawmakers fail to enact debt reduction measures and the economy weakens.
The measure raised the nation's debt ceiling until 2013 and threatens automatic spending cuts to enforce $2.4 trillion in spending reductions over the next 10 years.
S&P put the U.S. government on notice on April 18 that it risks losing its AAA rating unless lawmakers agree on a plan by 2013 to reduce budget deficits and the national debt. S&P indicated last month that anything less than $4 trillion in cuts would jeopardize the rating.
Mr. Obama has said a rating cut may hurt the broader economy by increasing consumer borrowing costs tied to Treasury rates. An increase in Treasury yields of 50 basis points would reduce U.S. economic growth by about 0.4 percentage points, JPMorgan said in a report, citing Federal Reserve research and data.