Russia's Debt Rating Downgraded Over Protests

Fitch rating agency has downgraded its outlook on Russia's debt rating from positive to stable. The agency indicated the recent widespread protests in Moscow and other cities were behind the downgrade.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep.

The past six months of news around the world has underlined one basic fact: political chaos is not so good for a country's economy. In particular, it's not good for a country's credit rating.

MONTAGNE: Last summer, Standard and Poor's specifically cited political gridlock as it downgraded American bonds.

INSKEEP: Last week, S&P downgraded nine nations in Europe after Europeans repeatedly fell short of ending a debt crisis.

MONTAGNE: Yesterday, Europe's financial rescue fund was also downgraded.

INSKEEP: And now Russia, for all its oil wealth, faces questions about its debt. From Moscow, NPR's Jackie Northam explains why.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Compared to Europe, the U.S. and many other areas, Russia seems to be doing pretty well. Analysts here in Moscow say over the past few years, the country has had one of the best performing stock markets in the world. And the International Monetary Fund predicted Russia's growth this year would be about 4 percent.

But yesterday, Fitch rating agency downgraded its outlook on Russia's debt rating from positive to stable. Andrew Risk, an equity strategist with Aton, says that's because there's a lot of uncertainty now in Russia.

ANDREW RISK: The key - really, the key issue is potential vulnerability, and that's really what the outlook which Fitch refers to, that's really why they're changing their outlook.

NORTHAM: Fitch rating agency said it based its decision on weakening global economic growth. The uncertainty in Europe and China could have an enormous impact on Russia.

But the rating agency also hinged its decision on the current political upheaval here. There have been massive protests in Moscow and other parts of the country over alleged ballot-rigging during recent parliamentary elections. And there's increasing anger against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid for another term as president.

Fitch said it was unclear how Russia's leadership would respond to the demonstrations. The next one is scheduled for February 4th. The agency said political uncertainty increases the risk of capital leaving the country. Aton's Andrew Risk says Russia is already experiencing that.

RISK: They saw something like $80 billion leave Russia in capital flight last year. And people attributed that to the run-up to the elections.

NORTHAM: But Risk says that's not just Russians stashing their money elsewhere. It's also international companies and European banks moving money out of the country. Fitch's announcement about the downgrade came the same day that Putin laid out his vision for Russia's future in the pro-government Izvestia newspaper. The article seemed to target the burgeoning middle class, and Putin said he would prevent economic stagnation in Russia.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Moscow.

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