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Rating Action:

Moody's changes Hungary's outlook to positive, affirms Baa3 ratings

25 Sep 2020

Frankfurt am Main, September 25, 2020 -- Moody's Investors Service, ("Moody's") has today changed the outlook on the Government of Hungary's ratings to positive from stable. Moody's has affirmed the long-term issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings at Baa3, and Hungary's senior unsecured shelf programme ratings at (P)Baa3.

The key drivers for the change in outlook to positive are the strong recent and prospective performance of the economy relative to Baa3- and Baa2-rated peers, with related improvements to the domestic and external debt position. While strong economic growth and government debt reduction have inevitably been derailed by the coronavirus crisis, the impact on Hungary's credit profile has been more limited than elsewhere. Moody's expects that the improvement in the government's fiscal and debt metrics seen since the last rating action in November 2018 will resume from 2021, and that the reduction in external vulnerabilities since 2012 will be sustained.

The Baa3 rating incorporates a number of credit challenges, such as the strong dependence of the economy on manufacturing and the related exposure to Germany's (Aaa stable) automotive sector; the fact that the government debt burden remains above the median of similar-rated peers; and some weaknesses in the institutions and governance framework, mainly in relation to civil society, and the at times confrontational relationship with the European Union (EU, Aaa stable).

In a related rating action, Moody's has today also changed the outlook on the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) to positive from stable and affirmed its long-term issuer and senior unsecured shelf programme ratings at Baa3 and (P)Baa3, respectively. The Government of Hungary is legally responsible for the payments on MNB's bonds, and MNB's ratings and outlook are therefore in line with those of the government.

Hungary's long-term foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain unchanged at Baa1 and Baa3, respectively. The short-term foreign-currency bond and deposit ceilings remain unchanged at P-2 and P-3, respectively. Finally, Hungary's long-term local-currency bond and deposit ceilings also remain unchanged at Baa1.

RATINGS RATIONALE

RATIONALE FOR CHANGING THE OUTLOOK TO POSITIVE FROM STABLE

Since Moody's last rating action in November 2018, the government has made further progress in implementing its fiscal consolidation and debt reduction strategy, supported by sustained strong growth momentum, with average annual real GDP growth of 5% in 2018 and 2019. Over the five years to end-2019, general government debt fell from 76.2% of GDP in 2015 to 66.3% of GDP.

The coronavirus pandemic has had, and will continue to have, a significantly negative impact on the Hungarian economy, government finances and debt metrics. Moody's forecasts a real GDP contraction of 5.5% in 2020, followed by a recovery in growth to about 4% in 2021, somewhat slower than the government's projection of 4.8% growth in its 2021 budget. Government debt will rise a further ten percentage points to around 76% of GDP.

However, the impact on Hungary's economic and fiscal strength is likely to be less marked than elsewhere in the EU and will reverse over time. The rating agency expects real GDP growth to return to potential from 2022, averaging around 3.5% for 2022-24, supported by strong investment in the past few years and the expectation that most large scale foreign direct investment projects will be implemented.

Moody's expects sustained growth momentum and commitment to continued fiscal prudence to reverse the rising debt trajectory once again. While the rating agency forecasts a more gradual reduction in the fiscal deficit than the authorities, it still expects the deficit to narrow to 3% of GDP by 2024, from a forecast deficit of 7.3% of GDP this year. Even under this scenario, Hungary will again exhibit one of the fastest reductions in government debt-to-GDP amongst its peer group of Baa2- and Baa3-rated sovereigns, with the debt ratio returning to its 2019 level by 2024.

RATIONALE FOR AFFIRMING THE RATINGS AT Baa3

The rating affirmation takes into account Hungary's fundamental credit strengths, the country's structural impediments to growth in the long-term, some weaknesses in the institutions and governance framework, and limited exposure to event risks.

Hungary's economic strength is marked by a moderately-sized economy, reasonably high wealth levels and robust growth dynamics, notwithstanding the negative impact on the economy particularly in 2020. Longer-term challenges include structural change in Germany's automotive sector, which Hungary's manufacturing sector is highly integrated within, as well as skills mismatches and broader non-cost competitiveness challenges, which the authorities are aiming to address through comprehensive competitiveness-enhancing plans, which will however take time to yield results.

Hungary's institutions and governance framework is characterized by the relatively high quality of its legislative and executive institutions, and reasonably strong policy effectiveness. However, in Moody's view the strength of Hungarian civil society and the judiciary is weaker than peers'. The at times confrontational relationship with the EU poses additional concerns, even if it has not yet weakened the investment and business climate.

While Hungary's government debt burden will remain somewhat higher than the median of its peer group of Baa2- and Baa3-rated sovereigns, Moody's expects this gap to narrow from 2021. Also, Hungary's government debt affordability is reasonably strong, with interest payments as a share of revenue staying below the peer group median since 2015. Hungary has managed stable fiscal deficits of around 2% of GDP between 2015 and 2019, which marked a significant improvement from deficits averaging 3.7% of GDP per year in the years 2009 to 2014.

Moody's expects event risks to remain contained. Hungary has further reduced its external vulnerabilities, with total external debt at 73.5% of GDP as of end-2019, down from close to 150% in 2009. The share of foreign-currency denominated government debt has fallen to 20.5% of the total at the end of 2019, from more than 50% in 2011; and the share of non-residents in general government debt has been reduced to 38.7% in 2019 from 66.1% in 2012. Together this has significantly lowered Hungary's exposure to global financial market volatility.

The banking system is sound and Moody's expects overall political stability over the coming years.

ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL, GOVERNANCE CONSIDERATIONS

Environmental considerations are not material to Hungary's credit profile, and the country has not been identified as being one of the sovereigns materially exposed to physical climate change risks, even if the increased frequency of climate-change related weather events such as droughts and floods will pose challenges over time.

Moody's regards the coronavirus outbreak as a social risk under its ESG framework, given substantial implications for public health and safety. However, while the crisis will lead to a temporary reversal of Hungary's otherwise improving credit metrics, it is unlikely to derail the underlying improvements supporting the positive outlook.

More material to Hungary's credit profile are long-term social considerations predominantly centered around the fiscal impact of relatively fast population ageing. While the European Commission identifies ageing as a medium/long-term fiscal sustainability risk for Hungary, previous pension reforms contribute to a broadly stable share of total ageing-related costs as a share of GDP over the coming decades.

Governance considerations form an integral part of our credit analysis for Hungary and are material to the credit profile. Longstanding concerns relate to the control of corruption, as well as issues concerning transparency in public procurement, central bank independence and monetary financing, as well as the difficult and at times confrontational relationship with the EU.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 34,046 (2019 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth (% change): 4.9% (2019 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)

Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): 4.1% (2019 Actual)

Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -2% (2019 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)

Current Account Balance/GDP: -0.3% (2019 Actual) (also known as External Balance)

External debt/GDP: 73.5% (2019 Actual)

Economic resiliency: baa1

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1983.

On 22 September 2020, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Government of Hungary. The main points raised during the discussion were: The issuer's economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have improved. The issuer's institutions and governance strength, have not materially changed. The issuer's fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has not materially changed. The issuer's susceptibility to event risks has not materially changed. The coronavirus pandemic will have a significant but temporary effect on Hungary's economic performance; fiscal consolidation and declining debt burden will likely resume from 2021 onwards.

FACTORS THAT COULD LEAD TO AN UPGRADE OR DOWNGRADE OF THE RATINGS

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING UP

Upward pressure on the rating would materialize if Hungary's economic metrics were to recover quickly from the crisis as expected and if that and policy action were to reverse the rising debt trajectory once again. Over time, the sustainable reduction in the public debt burden closer to the median of similarly rated peers would imply further upward pressure on the rating. Implementation of further structural reforms under the government's "Program for a More Competitive Hungary" and along the points outlined in the MNB's competitiveness programme aimed at improving non-cost competitiveness, which help to boost potential growth in the economy, would also be credit positive over the longer-term.

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING DOWN

The outlook would return to stable, or downward rating pressure could arise if there were signs of a (post-pandemic) weakened commitment by policymakers to contain the budget deficit and achieve primary surpluses to ensure a continued reduction in the debt burden. In addition, the introduction of policy measures that would weaken the economic growth outlook, which in turn endangers the downward trajectory of the government's debt ratio, would also be negative.

The principal methodology used in these ratings was Sovereign Ratings Methodology published in November 2019 and available at https://www.moodys.com/researchdocumentcontentpage.aspx?docid=PBC_1158631. Alternatively, please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

The weighting of all rating factors is described in the methodology used in this credit rating action, if applicable.

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For further specification of Moody's key rating assumptions and sensitivity analysis, see the sections Methodology Assumptions and Sensitivity to Assumptions in the disclosure form. Moody's Rating Symbols and Definitions can be found at: https://www.moodys.com/researchdocumentcontentpage.aspx?docid=PBC_79004.

For ratings issued on a program, series, category/class of debt or security this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series, category/class of debt, security or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the credit rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular credit rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

For any affected securities or rated entities receiving direct credit support from the primary entity(ies) of this credit rating action, and whose ratings may change as a result of this credit rating action, the associated regulatory disclosures will be those of the guarantor entity. Exceptions to this approach exist for the following disclosures, if applicable to jurisdiction: Ancillary Services, Disclosure to rated entity, Disclosure from rated entity.

The ratings have been disclosed to the rated entity or its designated agent(s) and issued with no amendment resulting from that disclosure.

These ratings are solicited. Please refer to Moody's Policy for Designating and Assigning Unsolicited Credit Ratings available on its website www.moodys.com.

Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.

Moody's general principles for assessing environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in our credit analysis can be found at https://www.moodys.com/researchdocumentcontentpage.aspx?docid=PBC_1133569.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.

Steffen Dyck
VP - Senior Credit Officer
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's Deutschland GmbH
An der Welle 5
Frankfurt am Main 60322
Germany
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

Yves Lemay
MD-Sovereign/Sub Sovereign
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

Releasing Office:
Moody's Deutschland GmbH
An der Welle 5
Frankfurt am Main 60322
Germany
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
Client Service: 44 20 7772 5454

No Related Data.
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