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S+P Upgrades Hungary to ‘BBB’; Outlook ‘Stable’

MTI-Hungary Today 2019.02.18.

S+P Global Ratings on Friday upgraded Hungary’s sovereign rating to ‘BBB’, two notches over the investment grade threshold, with a ‘stable’ outlook.

S+P Global Ratings raised its long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings on Hungary to ‘BBB/A-2’ from ‘BBB-/A-3’, the ratings agency said late in the evening, local time.

“The upgrade reflects Hungary’s sound growth prospects, supported by high private savings and real wage gains sustaining domestic demand, as well as the ongoing expansion of export capacity in the automotive and services sectors,” S+P said in its rationale for the ratings action.

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“While we expect growth to slow toward 2 percent by 2021, we think Hungary’s small open economy will be able to weather a period of weaker external demand, as well as the expected decline in EU funding,” it added.

Finance Minister: S and P Hungary ratings upgrade ‘about time’

Finance Minister Mihály Varga, commenting on the recent Standard and Poor’s ratings upgrade for Hungary, said “it was about time” to recognise the economy’s long-standing performance and to accept the market consensus.

Varga told a press conference on Saturday that the decision was an acknowledgement of the sustainability of Hungarian economic growth and the reduction of the country’s external vulnerability. The other big rating agencies are likely to follow suit shortly, he said.

He argued, however, that based on the assessment of the market, Hungary’s rating should have improved by two notches.

The minister said foreign investors would continue to see Hungary as a key investment destination as a result of the upgrade, and Hungary would continue to have cheaper access to market funding. For the time being, however, the government does not plan to issue an FX bond, he added.

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Varga said the government is drawing up measures to protect the economy in case growth slows in Europe. The ministry targets growth of 4 percent this year after 4.8 percent in 2018, he said.

Addressing risks S and P brought up in the area of demographic trends, Varga noted the government’s seven-point plan related to family benefits.

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The government’s competitiveness programme, he added, aims to improve the productivity of small and medium-sized firms, “the country’s biggest reserve”. The performance of the SME sector is a risk factor when it comes to Hungary’s credit rating, he said.

Varga said more still could be done to improve the efficiency of the state.

In recent years, Hungary’s growth has not been debt-fuelled, and the public debt has fallen for the seventh year, reaching 71 percent by the end of last year, he noted, adding that last year, the budget deficit was 1.8-1.9 percent, and this also contributed to the lower public debt.

Varga said the government’s family protection measures can be covered from reserves this year, and next year’s budget plan to be adopted by July 5, will incorporate the related spending for 2020.

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