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Rating Action:

Moody's Reports: Resolution of Sovereign Debt Default Key to Turnaround of Argentine Banking System

09 Jan 2004
Moody's Reports: Resolution of Sovereign Debt Default Key to Turnaround of Argentine Banking System

New York, January 09, 2004 -- In its annual report on Argentina's banking system, Moody's Investors Service says that two years after the default, its credit outlook for the banks continues to hinge on the sovereign's progress in rescheduling its external debt because of the banks' high exposure to the government sector.

Once the country's debt situation is resolved, the authorities will be in a better position to assess the economic viability of individual banks, to offer solutions to those that need them, and to complete the reconstruction of the banking system, said Moody's.

The rating agency also notes that bank financial strength ratings remain at the lowest levels because of the banks' still weak, though improving, financial fundamentals and their continued dependence on outside support. In addition, the banks are operating within a distressed economic and legal environment that has greatly impaired the creditworthiness of both businesses and individuals.

Among the bright spots of 2003 is the progress made by several of the major banks in restructuring their debts with external creditors, which should benefit their liquidity and solvency going forward. Improving economic and financial indicators apparent during the second half of 2003 should also benefit the banks' performance in 2004.

The report is titled "Banking System Outlook: Argentina."

The following text is the report's Summary Opinion.

* * *

Moody's foreign currency debt and deposit ratings for most of the Argentine banks were raised to Caa1 and Caa2, respectively, in August 2003 following the same action on the foreign currency country ceilings. Our credit outlook for the banks, as for the sovereign, continues to hinge on the sovereign's progress in rescheduling its external debt, particularly as the banks are highly exposed to the government sector.

Bank financial strength ratings remain at the lowest levels because of continued weak, though improving, financial fundamentals and continuing dependence on outside support. The E financial strength ratings are the lowest Moody's assigns to banks globally for intrinsic financial strength. The E rating points to the major banks' reliance on the support of either the Central Bank, through its liquidity assistance programs or regulatory forbearance, or their own shareholders, or both.

In addition, the banks must cope with the uncertainty of how and when the sovereign will resolve its debt problem, as they try to rebuild themselves in an economy that has experienced a dramatic contraction during the past three years, causing a huge dent in the financial health of individuals and businesses.

The banks remain subject to a host of legal uncertainties, the most important being the inability to foreclose on problem debts and the resolution of the "amparos," or lawsuits, brought against the banks by depositors claiming the original value of their dollar deposits.

On the positive side, there are signs of greater stability and of balance sheet rebuilding. Lower loss levels for the second half of 2003 have been projected by the Central Bank, reflecting a much less pressured interest rate and inflationary environment, a better understanding of credit portfolios and credit costs, and a slight upturn in lending activity. In late December, the Central Bank announced its approval of plans from local banks to restructure their foreign debts, which should improve liquidity going forward. Some of the banks have begun to or have already paid down their BCRA loans.

Two years after the default, the devaluation, and the deposit freeze, the banks are nevertheless still captive to the sovereign's plight. Once the country's debt situation is resolved, it is Moody's view that the authorities will be in a better position to assess the economic viability of individual banks, to develop and execute solutions for them, and to complete the reconstruction of the banking system.

Moody's Ratings and Outlooks for the Argentine Banking System:

Long Term Foreign Currency Debt: Caa1 to Ca Stable

Long Term Foreign Currency Deposits: Caa2 Stable

Country Ceilings Debt/Deposits: Caa1/Caa2 Stable

Bank Financial Strength (BFSR): E Stable

+ + +

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS ONLY: For a copy of this report, please contact New York Press Information +1-212-553-0376; London Press Information +44-20-7772-5454; Paris Press Information +33-1-5343-9378; Juan Pablo Soriano in Madrid +34-91-310-1454; Benedicte Pfister in Milan +39-02-58-215-585; Hector Lim in Sydney +612-9270-8190; Detlef Scholz in Frankfurt +49-69-707-30-700; Adel Satel in Limassol +357-25-586-586; Tokyo Press Information +813-5408-4110; Hilary Parkes in Toronto +1-416-214-1635; Lorraine Yee in Hong Kong +852-2916-1112; Luiz Tess in São Paulo +55-11-3443-7444; Benito Solis in Mexico City +525-261-8784; or Reynold Leegerstee in Johannesburg +27-11-217-5471 or visit our web site at www.moodys.com

New York
Gregory W. Bauer
Managing Director
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

New York
Jeanne Del Casino
VP - Senior Credit Officer
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service
JOURNALISTS: 212-553-0376
SUBSCRIBERS: 212-553-1653

No Related Data.
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