by Xinhua Writers Li Ming, Sun Oumeng
NEW YORK, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. financial service agency S&P's decision to downgrade China's credit ratings will have little impact on investor sentiment as it underestimates the country's capacity to curb debt risks and deepen economic reform, experts have said.
The agency on Thursday lowered China's sovereign credit rating by one notch to A+ from AA-, citing economic and financial risks from China's fast credit growth.
"The move by S&P ... is likely to have little impact on investor sentiment," Tom Orlik, Bloomberg's chief Asia economist, told Xinhua Thursday.
Khoon Goh, head of Asia Research at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited, said, "There shouldn't be much impact judging from the market reaction following the Moody's downgrade a few months back."
The markets were generally undisturbed by rating agency Moody's move to lower China's credit rating in May.
Since Moody's decision, the Shanghai Composite Index has kept a bullish momentum, breaking above a ceiling at 3,300 points at the end of August.
The Chinese yuan has also regained strength and soared to one-year high against the U.S. dollar in August. The Australian dollar, liquid proxy for China-related trades, rose more than 6.6 percent against the greenback since May.
China's stock markets were closed Thursday when S&P made the announcement, and there was little reaction from the yuan.
Experts attributed the market optimism to investors' belief that the fundamentals of the Chinese economy are stable and rating agencies have overestimated the difficulties in managing debt risks.
"The cuts (by) Moody's and S&P don't really reflect the international investors' view on China's economy," Wang Tao, chief China economist at UBS Group AG in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.
Wang added that risks have been reduced, corporate profits are rising, shadow financing has been reined in and capital outflows have been contained.
"(The downgrade) is pretty behind the curve," she said.
CONTROLLABLE DEBT RISKS
Experts believe debt risks are manageable in China with its fiscal firepower, minimal foreign debt, and abundant foreign reserves.
Brad Setser, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. non-profit think tank, said it is important to recognize that China's external balance sheet remains strong.
"China's 3 trillion (U.S. dollars) in formal reserves easily covers all of the external borrowing of China's government, its banks and its firms," Setser told Xinhua.
He added that the total government debt is modest for an economy that saves as much as China.
In past years, China has adopted a range of measures to manage debt risks, including building an early warning mechanism and debt supervision system, and completing local government bond swaps.
The latest regulatory upgrades include the introduction of a new committee on financial stability and development, announced during the two-day National Financial Work Conference in July.
The conference showed the commitment of the Chinese leaders to the deleveraging agenda, which is definitely a positive development, Orlik said.
DEEPENED ECONOMIC REFORM
Rather than adopting large-scale stimulus, China has been intensifying efforts to shift the economy towards consumption, services and innovation.
Analysts said such structural reforms could help reduce the country's debt risks systematically in the long run.
Paul Sheard, executive vice president and chief economist of S&P Global, told Xinhua in a recent interview that China's credit-fueled infrastructure and residential housing investment in the past decade led to a build-up of debt and credit in the economy, which is why economic reforms are critical.
Sheard said it's important that institutional and market-enhancing reforms that create the right incentives for capital to be allocated efficiently continue to be implemented.
Reforms should also continue for the necessary rebalancing of the economy from excessive reliance on investment to household consumption becoming the key driver of economic growth and rising living standards.
China's economy expanded 6.9 percent in the first half of 2017, with consumption and services, and new innovation-driven economic sectors taking up larger roles, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics.
In July, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised up China's growth forecast for 2017 and 2018 to 6.7 percent and 6.4 percent respectively.
The IMF said the updates reflected a solid first quarter of the Chinese economy underpinned partially by supply-side reforms.