Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and Fitch Ratings downgraded their ratings on Spanish financial institutions Monday, after both agencies cut their ratings on that nation's government debt.
Fitch said it cut the ratings because Spain's credit downgrade last month will weaken the government's ability to help big banks if they get into trouble. That makes those banks' debt more risky. At the same time, a weak real estate market and economy will also depress the values of assets held by the banks, the agency said.
Fitch painted a gloomy picture of Spain's economy, which will likely drag down the banks' profitability. Fitch said it expects no GDP growth in Spain this year, and 1 percent growth in 2013. The unemployment rate will remain around 23 percent and the real estate market will be "a long-term cause for concern," Fitch said.
While the Spanish government might have been weakened by the downgrade, Fitch said it is still confident that Spain will try to support the banks if they get into trouble.
Standard & Poor's didn't elaborate as much on Spain's economy or its downgrade of the government's debt. But it said banks were rated in part due to an "anchor" rating that measures how well they can do within Spain's economy.
Standard & Poor's cut its ratings on 15 financial institutions, while Fitch downgraded four major banks. Both agencies cut ratings on major banks including: Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Banco Santandar, Bankia S.A., CaixaBank S.A. and Caja de Ahorros y Pensiones de Barcelona. Standard & Poor's also removed the ratings on 13 financial institutions from CreditWatch. It assigned a "Negative" outlook on 11 of them and "Stable" outlook on two.
The downgrade means three of the banks were removed from their negative rating watch and assigned outlook ratings. Fitch said its outlook is "Negative" on Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria and CaixaBank. Its outlook is "Stable" on Bankia.
Caja de Ahorros y Pensiones de Barcelona wasn't assigned an outlook because it is still on credit watch.
Fitch downgraded Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria to "A" from "A+." It downgraded Bankia to "BBB+" from "A-." CaixaBank was cut to "A-" from "A" and Caja de Ahorros y Pensiones de Barcelona was dropped to "A-" from "A."
S&P also cut ratings on Santander Consumer Finance S.A., which provides auto loans in several countries including the U.S., Santander Holdings U.S.A Inc. and Sovereign Bank, the Santander Group unit based in Boston. All were dropped to "A" with a "Negative" outlook, from "A+" on CreditWatch Negative.