Standard & Poor's raises Philippines' credit rating to investment grade

MANILA, Philippines – MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Standard & Poor’s gave the Philippines an investment grade credit rating on Thursday in the second such boost to the country’s standing this year.

S&P said it raised its sovereign rating on the Philippines to BBB minus from BB plus. It said the outlook for the rating was stable.

The upgrade reflects a “strengthening external profile, moderating inflation, and the government’s declining reliance on foreign currency debt,” S&P credit analyst Agost Benard said.

Fitch Rating’s gave the Philippines its first-ever investment grade rating in late March, citing the country’s current account surplus and status as a creditor nation.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the upgrade indicates sustained confidence in the Philippine economy, which grew 6.6 per cent last year.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said the investment grade rating “is another resounding vote of confidence on the Philippines and an affirmation of what the markets already recognize — that our economy’s underlying soundness is on par with countries rated investment grade or higher.”

He said the government will continue to focus on infrastructure development and further open the economy as it removes other obstacles to bigger growth.

S&P said in a statement that the country has created a substantial foreign exchange reserve buffer with its current account surpluses, which will be sustained “over the next several years” by continued remittances from the country’s large overseas labour force and the growing business process outsourcing industry.

It said modest net foreign investments and net portfolio equity inflows have also contributed to the surplus.

“The buffer makes for low refinancing risk and an import cover ratio well above prudential norms,” it said, adding that “low and fairly stable” inflation also supported the rating upgrade.

The country’s low income level is holding back a higher rating, with per capita gross domestic product projected at $2,850 this year, which is “below that of most similarly rated sovereigns,” it said.

Other factors that hamper the country’s growth include infrastructure shortfalls, restrictions on foreign ownership of some businesses that deter foreign investment and the “concentrated nature of the economy,” it said.