Portugal and Greece downgrades have silver lining in the reach for yield

Yesterday, Moody’s cut the outlook for the sovereign debt of Portugal and put Greece on negative watch for a downgrade, signaling growing concern over spiraling debts. Just as with Spain and Ireland which I discussed yesterday, Portugal and Greece are smaller countries within the Eurozone with large fiscal problems due to the recession. For example, the Wall Street Journal says that Greece expects a budget deficit of 12.5% of GDP this year – that’s more than 4 times larger than the limit set by the Maastricht treaty.

Bonds sold off on the news. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The news spooked investors in government bond markets. The yield spread between 10-year Greek government bonds and comparable German government bonds, or bunds, widened to 1.42 percentage points from 1.36 points. The impact was milder on Portuguese yield spreads, which widened to 0.56 point from 0.54 point against German bunds, because a possible downgrade appeared less imminent.

Moody’s said it hoped to complete the review process promptly, and within three months in the case of Greece. It added that it might keep Greece on a negative outlook even if it decides upon a downgrade.

Standard & Poor’s downgraded both Portugal and Greece in January, while Fitch downgraded Greece last week and revised its outlook on Portugal to negative in September.

And we should certainly expect these downgrades to continue. Back in January, when Portugal was downgraded, the spread to German Bunds moved out to a 12-year high of 146 bps. We are now only 4 beeps lower than that. So, that sounds bearish for their bonds. However, their is a silver lining as Peter Schaffrik of Commerzbank explains in the video below.  Bond investors are incredibly starved for yield and that means there is a good bid for these sovereign issues as they offer relatively more yield pickup than German Bunds.

On the other hand, Chris Wyllie of Iveagh says he is zero weight in bonds now because even these bonds and corporate issues simply do not have enough yield to make them attractive.

You should see this as further evidence that stocks are being artificially buoyed by an increased risk appetite driven by low interest rates.


Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.