Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Massachusetts Avenue Development Seminars

Are the Poorest Countries a Risky Investment? Shadow Sovereign Ratings for Unrated Developing Countries

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Center for Global Development and The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies co-hosted "Are the Poorest Countries a Risky Investment? Shadow Sovereign Ratings for Unrated Developing Countries" a Massachusetts Avenue Development Seminar (MADS)* featuring Dilip Ratha, Senior Economist, Development Prospects Group, World Bank. Donald Mathieson, Former Chief of Emerging Markets Surveillance, Capital Markets Department, International Monetary Fund, served as the discussant.

Shadow Sovereign Ratings paper (pdf, 598K)

ABSTRACT: The authors attempt to predict sovereign ratings for developing countries that do not have risk ratings from agencies such as Fitch, Moody's, and Standard and Poor's. Ratings affect capital flows to developing countries through international bond, loan and equity markets. Sovereign rating also acts as a ceiling for the foreign currency rating of sub-sovereign borrowers. As of the end of 2006, however, only 86 developing countries have been rated by the rating agencies. Of these, 15 countries have not been rated since 2004. Nearly 70 developing countries have never been rated. The results indicate that the unrated countries are not always at the bottom of the rating spectrum.

The key finding is that several unrated poor countries appear to have a 'B' or higher rating, in a similar range as the emerging market economies with capital market access. Drawing on the literature, the analysis presents a stylized relationship between borrowing costs and the credit rating of sovereign bonds. The launch spread rises as the credit rating deteriorates, registering a sharp rise at the investment grade threshold. Based on these findings, a case can be made in favor of helping poor countries obtain credit ratings not only for sovereign borrowing, but for sub-sovereign entities' access to international debt and equity capital. The rating model along with the stylized relationship between spreads and ratings can be useful for securitization and other financial structures, and for leveraging official aid, for improving borrowing terms in poor countries.

*The Massachusetts Avenue Development Seminar (MADS) series is an effort by the Center for Global Development and The Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies to take advantage of the incredible concentration of great international development scholars in the Metro Washington, DC area. The series seeks to bring together members of this community and improve communication between them.