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S&P Raises GO Rtg On Puerto Rico To ‘BBB’ From ‘BBB-’
DALLAS (Standard & Poor’s) March 7, 2011–Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services raised its general obligation (GO) rating on the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to ‘BBB’ from ‘BBB-’ with a stable outlook. We have affirmed the ‘BBB-’ rating with a stable outlook on the commonwealth’s appropriation debt. In addition, Standard & Poor’s assigned its ‘BBB’ rating and stable outlook to the commonwealth’s series 2011C GO public improvement refunding bonds.
“The upgrade is based on our view of the commonwealth’s recent revenue performance and continued efforts to achieve fiscal and budgetary balance,”
said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Horacio Aldrete-Sanchez. We believe that the collections from the recently enacted excise tax, which have exceeded the government’s expectations, will provide the commonwealth with additional flexibility to continue to narrow the budget gap and achieve structurally balanced budgets in the next two years. Other medium-term budget pressures, such as the commonwealth’s retirement benefit obligations, remain a limiting credit factor, in our opinion. However, we believe that the improving budgetary performance will afford commonwealth officials greater latitude to implement the current administration’s proposals to improve the funding status of its various pension and post-employment benefit systems.
The ‘BBB’ ratings continue to reflect our opinion of the commonwealth’s history of chronic budget deficits. Governor Luis Fortuno’s fiscal stabilization plan, which included an unprecedented 17% reduction in payroll expenditures, along with the recently approved tax measures is aimed at eliminating a decade-long trend of budget imbalances. The implementation of these measures has received broad legislative support. While we view the current administration’s measures as an important step toward budget stability, we do not anticipate the achievement of a structurally balanced budget until fiscal 2013.
Factors that continue to support the ratings include our opinion of the commonwealth’s strong ties to the U.S. economy, resulting in a significant flow of trade and income transfers, with exports to the U.S. accounting for approximately $46.4 billion (76% of GNP) in 2008. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total income transfers from the U.S. to Puerto Rico totaled $13.5 billion (22% of GNP) in 2008.
The stable outlook is based on our view of the commonwealth’s recent implementation of significant expenditure controls and revenue enhancement measures that we believe could help restore budget balance within the next two years. Standard & Poor’s could raise the rating if over the upcoming two years in conjunction with an improvement in the commonwealth’s economic performance, budget controls remain in place and we believe there is continued progress toward achieving balance between ongoing revenues and expenditures as well as in addressing Puerto Rico’s unfunded retirement benefit obligations. The rating could be negatively pressured if the effectiveness of the recently approved tax and budget measures is impeded by either continued economic deterioration or a loosening of the expenditure discipline exhibited to date, and the commonwealth fails to make progress in addressing its unfunded retirement obligations in the next two years.