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Rating Action:

GOOD BUDGET PERFORMANCE AND MANAGEABLE DEBT BURDEN UNDERLIE STABLE RATING OUTLOOK FOR FRENCH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

02 Mar 1998
GOOD BUDGET PERFORMANCE AND MANAGEABLE DEBT BURDEN UNDERLIE STABLE RATING OUTLOOK FOR FRENCH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS London, March 2, 1998 -- In its latest report on the financial performance of the French local government sector, Moody's Investors Service Ltd. strikes a positive tone noting that "the overall financial profile of the sector appears to be the best it has ever been since 1982 when the decentralization process began."
Highlighting that in 1997, French local governments posted a net financing surplus (according to the Maastricht definition), Moody's said that their improving profile is based on the three pillars of: (i) sustained revenue growth, mainly as a result of recurrent tax hikes; (ii) improving expense management practices which are slowing down cost growth; and (iii) an increasingly cautious approach to borrowing. However, the very fact that tax rates have been raised repeatedly since the early 1990s leaves only limited scope for further rises. Moreover, social aid expenditure demands continue to exert pressure on departmental finances.

According to Moody's, pressure to raise taxes further should subside because better economic performance should lead to a growth in tax bases. Such revenue increases will offset the downtrend on state transfers which is expected to continue. Although there are critical upcoming capital spending requirements, French local authorities' ability to self-finance a large portion of these expenditures should put a cap on their need to increase their recourse to borrowing. In addition, according to Moody's, the advent of the Euro will lead French local authorities to progressively take into account relevant European peers' tax rate levels when setting future local tax rates.

Improving expenditure controls have been a feature of local finances in recent years, a direct consequence of poor revenue growth during the recession and sluggish economic growth of the early 1990s. In 1997, the ability to bring costs under control reflected (i) stable staff and administrative expenses; (ii) a leveling-off of social security payments; (iii) lower interest charges and (iv) lower levels of non-discretionary expenditure. These benign factors outweigh increasing costs associated with (i) a further devolution of responsibilities; (ii) rising investment expenditure requirements; and (iii) transitional costs associated with the introduction of the Euro in 1999.

Finally, Moody's does not anticipate that the advent of Europe's single currency will trigger a rapid increase in bond issues by French local authorities. Despite the fact that the advent of EMU should contribute to make bond issues a comparatively more attractive funding alternative, other factors, notably the obligation for French local governments to deposit their excess cash in non-remunerated accounts at the French Treasury, should limit the development of a French municipal bond market.

Moody's rates the following French local authorities:

n Alpes-maritimes, Département des - senior domestic currency debt rating at Aa2;
n Essonne, Département de l' - senior foreign currency debt rating at Aa1;
n Hauts-de-Seine, Département des - senior foreign and domestic currency debt ratings at Aa1;
n Ile-de-France, Région - senior foreign currency debt rating at Aaa;
n Lot-et-Garonne, Département du - senior domestic currency debt rating at A3;
n Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Région - senior foreign currency debt rating at Aa2;
n Seine-et-Marne, Département de - senior foreign currency debt rating at Aa2.



NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: For a copy of this Moody's report, please contact Donna Gee in New York (212) 553-0376, Andrew Chmaj in London (171) 772-5454, Juan Pablo Soriano in Madrid (341) 310 1454, Katrina Braund in Sydney (612) 9270 8111, Mauricette Salque in Paris (331) 53 30 10 20, Juergen Berblinger in Frankfurt (4969) 242 840, Velvet Yoshinami in Tokyo (813) 3593 0734, Hilary Parkes in Toronto (416) 214-1635, Edward Young in Hong Kong (8522) 509 0200, Patrick Winsbury in Singapore (65) 320 8330 or Christiana Aguiar in São Paulo (5511) 3043-7186.

No Related Data.
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