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Moody’s: It’s hard to regain a triple-A rating

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: President Obama will again meet with Republicans today in a quest to find a deal and raise the nation’s debt ceiling. And if a deal doesn’t come, the U.S. credit rating could be in trouble. Rating agency Moody’s says it’s keeping an eye on those debt talks, saying it’ll review the U.S.’s triple-A rating if talks break down.

Steven Hess is a senior credit officer at Moody’s. Good morning.

STEVEN HESS: Good morning.

CHIOTAKIS: What it’s going to take for you all to actually pull the trigger and downgrade U.S. debt?

HESS: Well, in this case we’re looking at the very short-term possibility that the U.S. could default on debt service payments on U.S. treasury bonds. That, we don’t consider very likely at all, however should that occur we would downgrade.

CHIOTAKIS: What exactly were you looking at when you guys put the triple-A rating on review?

HESS: The possibility that they might default. We still don’t expect it as the most probably scenario, and if it doesn’t happen, then we will confirm the rating again at triple-A. But, we’re also looking at the longer-term fiscal position which is a separate question, but is the subject, as you know, of negotiations in Washington between the republicans and well, the administration. That depends on the long-term fiscal outlook and debt outlook of the country.

CHIOTAKIS: I know this is a big political story, as much as it is an economic one. Did you guys do this intentionally to make some sort of point?

HESS: No, our ratings only speak to the risk to bond-holders of U.S. government bonds. Of course the polarization in the political situation is a factor we have to consider in terms of the likelihood that they might default, but really we’re only looking at the risks faced by bond-holders.

CHIOTAKIS: Let’s take the worst-case scenario and say that you guys do downgrade the debt. How hard would it be to get back to triple-A?

HESS: If there were actually a default, it would be hard to move back to triple-A in the very near term because you know, once it’s happened once, the possibility that it might happen again in the future would still be there unless they fix the way that the debt limit question is handled in Washington and that doesn’t seem likely very quickly. So we think that if they lost the triple-A in a near term, there would not be a return to triple-A.

CHIOTAKIS: Steven Hess, senior credit officer at Moody’s with us from New York. Steven thank you.

HESS: Thank you.

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