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Rating Action:

MOODY'S DOWNGRADES RATINGS OF SANTANDER CENTRAL HISPANO TO A1/B- FROM Aa3/B; SUBSIDIARIES' RATINGS ALSO DOWNGRADED

02 Dec 2002

Approximately $50 Billion of Debt Securities Affected.

Madrid, December 02, 2002 -- Moody's Investors Service downgraded to A1 from Aa3 the long-term ratings and to B- from B the financial strength rating of Santander Central Hispano, S.A. Moody's said that although the Brazilian situation has somewhat stabilized temporarily since the ratings were put under review for possible downgrade on 1 August, 2002, and Santander Central Hispano has in the meantime taken some decisive steps to mitigate the possible negative effects of adverse scenarios on its Brazilian franchise, at this time it could not rule out the likelihood of materially more difficult operating conditions in Brazil that could end up having a more severe impact on Santander Central Hispano's significant presence in the country. The Spanish group owns Banco do Estado de Sao Paulo (Banespa), a large Brazilian bank rated B3/NP/D by Moody's, and this investment, which is by far its largest in Latin America, represents a significant share of Santander Central Hispano's core capital.

Also downgraded were the long-term ratings of Banco Espanol de Credito (Banesto) to A1 from Aa3 and the long-term rating of HBF Banco Financiero to A2 from A1 -- both Spanish subsidiaries of Santander Central Hispano -- as well as the long-term ratings of Banco Totta & Acores to A2 from A1. BancoTotta is the Portuguese bank subsidiary of Santander Central Hispano.

Banesto's financial strength rating was not under review and remains at B with a stable outlook, taking into account this bank's strong fundamentals and good market positioning in the Spanish retail and commercial banking market. Also maintained and with a stable outlook are the Prime-1 short-term ratings of Santander Central Hispano, Banesto, HBF Banco Financiero and Banco Totta, as well as the C+ financial strength rating of Banco Totta.

Also as a result of the downgrade of Santander Central Hispano's ratings, the following Latin American subsidiaries' ratings have been downgraded: the long-term ratings of Banco Santander Puerto Rico to A2 from A1 and its preferred stock rating to Baa1 from A3; the long-term foreign currency subordinated debt rating of Banco Santander Chile to A3 from A2; and long-term foreign currency subordinated debt rating of Banco Santander Mexicano to Baa1 from A3.

Commenting on its rating action, Moody's pointed out that it was driven mostly by the significant uncertainties surrounding the operating environment in Brazil as a whole, rather than specifically by the Spanish group's management of Banespa. If anything, Santander Central Hispano has been implementing an aggressive restructuring programme aiming at creating more efficiency in the Brazilian bank and at strengthening its modest recurring profitability. Banespa's successful turnaround process under the control of the Santander group has been captured by Moody's several upgrades of Banespa's financial strength rating in the more recent past.

The Brazilian market as whole, however, remains largely vulnerable to a sharp negative change in investor sentiment that could aggravate further the existing financial risks faced by the government and consequently increase the structural risk attached to Santander Central Hispano's presence in this country. Even without the harshness of an extreme Argentina-like scenario, the Spanish group's economic capitalisation could be impacted by a material impairment of its Brazilian investment. Moody's said that it will continue its monitoring of the evolution in the Brazilian banking sector, as well as of the measures Santander Central Hispano may continue to take to limit further the structural risk of its Brazilian investment on its earnings and capital. To the extent that the current vulnerability will abate on a more sustainable basis -- a scenario that may be less likely for the near future -- the overall creditworthiness of Santander Central Hispano could be strengthened, with positive rating connotations.

Aside from the clouded Brazilian outlook, Santander Central Hispano's strong and stable fundamentals are fully compatible with a Aa rating, commented Moody's. A dominant position in the Spanish market and a very diversified mix of financial-services activities enable the group to generate a substantial flow of recurring predictable earnings that underpin its reassuring internal capital generation capacity. Furthermore, the group has recently undertaken some actions to shore up its core capital position. In Europe, Santander Central Hispano has been focusing in recent years in pursuing a strategy focused on the consumer finance business -- not only in Spain but also in Germany and Italy. As for its Latin American presence, Santander Central Hispano plans to streamline it in various local markets. Moody's pointed to the Spanish group's good track record in managing down the risk profile of the various Latin American banks it has been buying, and improving their efficiency.

The following ratings were downgraded:

Banco Santander Central Hispano, S.A. -- the long-term deposit rating and senior debt to A1 from Aa3, the issuer rating to A1 from Aa3, the rating on cedulas hipotecarias to Aa2 from Aa1, the financial strength rating to B- from B, and subordinated debt rating to A2 from A1.

Santander Central Hispano Financial Services Limited -- the rating on guaranteed subordinated debt to A2 from A1.

Santander Central Hispano International Ltd. -- the rating on guaranteed senior debt to A1 from Aa3.

Santander Central Hispano Issuances -- the rating on guaranteed subordinated debt to A2 from A1.

BSCH Finance Limited -- the rating on guaranteed preferred shares to A3 from A2.

Santander Finance B.V. -- the rating on guaranteed subordinated debt to A2 from A1.

BCH Capital Limited -- the rating on guaranteed preferred shares to A3 from A2.

BCH Cayman Islands Limited -- the rating on guaranteed subordinated debt to A2 from A1.

BCH Eurocapital Limited -- the rating on guaranteed preferred shares to A3 from A2.

BCH Financial Services Limited -- the rating on guaranteed subordinated debt to A2 from A1

BCH International Finance Limited -- the rating on guaranteed senior debt to A1 from Aa3.

Santander Overseas Bank, Inc -- the rating on guaranteed preferred shares to A3 from A2.

HBF Banco Financiero -- the rating on commercial paper to A2 from A1.

Banco Espanol de Credito, S.A. -- the bank deposit rating to A1 from Aa3 and the rating on cedulas hipotecarias to Aa2 from Aa1.

Banesto Finance Ltd. -- the rating on guaranteed subordinated debt to A2 from A1.

Banesto Holdings Ltd. -- the rating on guaranteed preferred shares to A3 from A2.

Banesto Issuances Ltd. -- the rating on senior subordinated debt to A1 from Aa3.

Banco Totta y Açores, S.A. -- the long-term deposit and senior debt ratings to A2 from A1.

Totta y Açores Financing Ltd. -- the rating on preferred shares to Baa1 from A3.

Banco Santander Puerto Rico -- long-term deposit rating to A2 from A1, the issuer rating to A2 from A1; senior unsecured bank notes to A2 from A1; and preferred stock to Baa1 from A3. The Prime-1 short-term rating and the C bank financial strength rating were unaffected.

Banco Santander Chile - long-term foreign currency subordinated debt ratingto A3 from A2.

Banco Santander Mexicano - long-term foreign currency subordinated debt rating to Baa1 from A3. The A3 long-term foreign currency senior debt rating was unaffected.

The following rating was confirmed:

Pinto Totta International Finance Ltd. -- the rating on preferred shares at A3.

Santander Central Hispano is headquartered in Santander, Spain. In September 2002 total assets amounted to EUR335.5 billion.

London
Samuel S. Theodore
Managing Director
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Ltd.
44 20 7772 5454

Madrid
Maria Cabanyes
Senior Vice President
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Espana, S.A.
(34-91-310-1454)

MOODY'S DOWNGRADES RATINGS OF SANTANDER CENTRAL HISPANO TO A1/B- FROM Aa3/B; SUBSIDIARIES' RATINGS ALSO DOWNGRADED
No Related Data.
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