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  • Nick Burgess

What Does A Credit Rating Downgrade Mean For The U.S?

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What Does A Credit Rating Downgrade Mean For The U.S?

August 2023 saw the explosion of users searching the internet for a specific term: Fitch. An international credit rating agency, Fitch announced on August 1 that they had downgraded the credit of the United States from AAA to AA+, citing "a steady deterioration in the standard of governance" of the country, strongly alluding to the widening political divide in the country, constant battles over the U.S. debt ceiling and the four current outstanding indictments against former president Donald Trump. Several weeks later, Fitch popped up again by downgrading the credit ratings of several major U.S banks.

U.S $100 bills being fed into a shredder

It's not the first time that the U.S. has grappled with the looming specter of credit downgrades. If we recall, the national debt has been a hot-button issue for years, with the U.S. debt ceiling debates causing political standoffs and last-minute resolutions. Such political dysfunction isn't just a headline grabber; it has genuine ramifications for the American economy and its place on the global stage.

One might ask, why does debt matter? To put it simply, debt matters because it is tied to our credit ratings. Credit rating agencies, like Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s (often abbreviated as S&P Global Ratings), closely monitor the general government debt burden in relation to the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). The relationship, often expressed as the debt-to-GDP ratio, speaks volumes about a country's fiscal management.

In the recent past, repeated debt-limit standoffs and warnings from prominent figures like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have been a wake-up call for the financial markets. The U.S. economy, while seeing the strongest recovery of any major economy post the global financial crisis, as well as post-pandemic, has faced its share of challenges. This was evidenced when both Fitch’s decision to hint at a potential downgrade and the S&P downgrade became significant news. It wasn’t the first time, nor, worryingly, might it be the last.

President Joe Biden and his administration officials, including White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, have repeatedly stressed the importance of bipartisan agreements, especially when it comes to increasing the borrowing limit and ensuring that social security and Medicare costs are covered. The erosion of governance relative to fiscal framework is worrying, with the Congressional Budget Office echoing a similar view.

It’s essential to understand why a rating downgrade of the United States is so consequential. A credit downgrade signifies a perceived higher risk, which in turn can lead to higher interest rates. For the average American, this can translate to more expensive mortgages and loans. For the federal government, it means increased costs associated with servicing the U.S. government debt.

Standards of governance, especially in fiscal matters, have come under the spotlight. Evidently, Fitch's downgrade was based not just on expected fiscal deterioration but also on political dynamics. This resonates with the earlier S&P downgrade, where political standoffs over the debt ceiling and the federal reserve's role in the U.S. economy played a part.

The ripple effects of a credit rating downgrade can be vast. The U.S. Treasury securities, often seen as a liquid asset and the gold standard in the bond markets, might face pressures. Bond yields, specifically the 10-year treasury yields, react almost instantaneously. Pension funds, central banks, and major credit institutions that rely on U.S. Treasuries as a safe bet might reconsider their positions.

Historically, the U.S. credit was seen as the world’s reserve currency – a AAA rating that was the envy of the global financial landscape. But the Fitch downgrade was the second time a major ratings agency expressed concerns. While S&P Global Ratings had its reservations, it’s noteworthy that the erosion of trust isn't based on outdated data but a steady deterioration of political will and fiscal prudence.

While President Biden and Biden administration officials work towards solutions, the role of ratings agencies like Fitch and Standard & Poor's becomes even more critical. Their views, whether it’s Fitch’s move or the opinion of the chief economist at S&P, have the power to sway economic growth projections, GDP growth figures, and even the trajectory of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

As the U.S. dollar remains the bedrock of global finance, the U.S. rating isn't just a reflection of domestic affairs. An erosion in the U.S. rating could hint at an overall decrease in global confidence in the U.S. fiscal management. This isn't just about national pride; it's about the very bedrock of our economic system.

Tax cuts, government shutdown scenarios, the potential for outdated data to affect decisions, and the intricate dance of the U.S. economy with the federal reserve all play their part. It’s high time for a reevaluation, not just of our debt matters but of our very standards of governance.

In conclusion, while the U.S. remains one of the strongest economies globally, the specter of Fitch's downgrade and similar concerns from other agencies serve as a stark reminder. The repeated debt-limit debates, political standoffs, and the resulting strain on the U.S. credit isn't just a challenge for today; it's a long-term concern for the future of the American economy. It's time for policymakers to realize that the world is watching, and the clock is ticking.


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