Breaking news is S&P’s downgrade of France’s credit rating to AA from AA+ putting it two notches below Germany. Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici has rushed out to declare French debt is among the safest and most liquid in the euro zone, which is true.
What is also pretty unarguable is S&P’s assessment that France’s economic reform programme is falling short and the high unemployment is weakening support for further measures. There’s also Francois Hollande’s dismal poll ratings to throw into the mix.
As a result, medium-term growth prospects are lacklustre. Euro zone GDP figures for the third quarter are out next week and France is expected to lag with growth of just 0.1 percent.
French bond futures have fallen though not dramatically. They shrugged off the loss of France’s ‘AAA’ status nearly two years ago; yields are significantly lower now than they were then.
Last week’s upgrade of Spain’s rating outlook by Fitch was seen by some as a harbinger of better times. And given the work Madrid has done to increase competitiveness and cut labour costs, exports at least are on the up. France has travelled only a very little way down that road and we know from people right at the top of Europe’s policymaking tree that it is high on their worry list.