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Korean agency makes first sovereign ratings

NICE Investors Service on Tuesday announced its sovereign ratings of six governments for the first time as a local ratings agency.

NICE gave sovereign ratings for Korea as well as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Brazil.

The company said its evaluation would provide diversity in a ratings market dominated by Fitch, Moody and Standard & Poor’s, whose incorrect and belated evaluations have been blamed for aggravating the global financial meltdown in 2008 and ensuing European debt crisis.

“The Korean government always took ratings from foreign rating agencies but now we’re able to give independent rating actions on foreign governments as well. It reflects the growing power of the Korean economy,” agency CEO Lee Yong-hi said.

“Our ratings would enable a more efficient running of the financial industry by providing investors with diverse credit rating information.”

The 1986 spin-off of the National Information and Credit Evaluation Inc. is one of the country’s two market leaders with a greater than 30 percent market share.

NICE is a homegrown agency while its competitor, Korea Investors Service, has Fitch and Moody’s as its two biggest shareholders.

The credit rating of a government is a crucial element in evaluating government bonds as well as commercial papers and corporate investments in the country.

NICE rated the Korean government AA Stable for its ability to pay debt denominated in foreign currencies and AA+ for its management of local assets in the won.

“The Korean economy is stable with an edge in the automobile, semiconductor and steel industries,” the agency said.

“The Korean central government has healthy fiscal balance and a manageable debt level.”

It gave an A for Malaysia on the government’s debt management in foreign currencies, at three spots below Korea. It gave ratings of BBB+ to Thailand, BBB to Brazil, BBB- to Indonesia and BB+ to the Philippines.

By Cynthia J. Kim (cynthiak@heraldcorp.com)
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