Fitch cuts outlook for Taiwan's local currency
Reuters - 1 hour 15 minutes ago
TAIPEI, Jan 19 - Fitch Ratings lowered its outlook for Taiwan's local currency ratings to negative from stable on Monday due to the island's worsening fiscal health this year and next as it heads towards a recession.
The move by Fitch comes days after Taiwan's parliament passed the central government's 2009 general budget, which will yield a deficit of T$134.6 billion , the second consecutive shortfall and bigger than 2008.
"The improvements in Taiwan's public finance in recent years are set to reverse course, with a growing general government deficit financed by local-currency borrowing," Vincent Ho, an associate director in Fitch's Asia sovereign ratings team.
Fitch downgraded the outlook for Taiwan's long-term local currency issuer default rating , now at 'AA', to negative, though the outlook on the long-term foreign currency IDR remains stable, the ratings agency said in a statement.
"Government debt is projected to rise accordingly, putting pressure on the local currency IDR," Ho said.
Increased infrastructure spending, income tax cuts and a slew of economic stimulus projects will likely push Taiwan's fiscal deficit to be above 3 percent of GDP in 2009 and 2010, Fitch said.
Taiwan's finance ministry said spending during the gloomy economic climate was necessary.
"The government has been spending more and issuing more debt because these moves are necessary to stimulate the economy and improve our economic outlook," the ministry said in a statement.
"With out healthy tax system and effective spending, we should be able to balance our budget in the long term."
The finance ministry also said the central government's outstanding debt now totalled 30.9 percent of GDP in 2008, which is relatively lower than economies such as the United States, Japan and Singapore.
In November, Richard Liu, chief of the finance ministry's customs department, said Taiwan's central government would likely log a fiscal shortfall exceeding 2 percent of GDP.
Fitch forecast that the general government's debt will begin to rise again and reach 47 percent of GDP, which is a record high, and 280 percent of fiscal revenue in 2009, with debt ratios expected to deteriorate further if deflation kicks in.
The tech-reliant economy will most probably contract 2.1 percent in 2009 given the global downturn and expand by 3.3 percent in 2010 if the world economy recovers, Fitch said.
Taiwan is set to slip into technical recession, defined as two straight quarters of contraction, in the fourth quarter of 2008, the statistics agency said, as a deepening global downturn crimps exports and dampens domestic consumption.
The only bright spot is warming ties with China since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May last year, with both sides establishing full-blown direct links, Fitch said.
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