Fitch upgrades Israel's ratings after 15 years

"The upgrade reflects the rapid fall of public debt to gross domestic product," said Richard Fox, Fitch's Middle East head.

Fitch, one of the three leading international credit-rating agencies, has upped its ratings on Israel for the first time in 15 years, on the back of the country's rapidly falling public debt and "revitalized growth." "The upgrade reflects the rapid fall in the all-important ratio of public debt to gross domestic product, which reached an all-time low of just over 80 percent last year," said Richard Fox, Fitch's head of Middle East and Africa sovereign ratings. "Although still high, we expect further reductions in the debt ratio in the year ahead, despite likely slower economic growth due to the global slowdown." In the past, Israel's high public debt ratio had long constrained its ratings, Fitch said in a statement. "However, the fiscal framework put in place since the recession of 2001/02, combined with other important economic and structural reforms that have revitalized growth, has delivered a cumulative four-year fall in the debt ratio by over 20% of GDP, to reach an all time low of just over 80% last year. The headline 'state' budget deficit was in virtual balance in 2007, also for the first time ever," it said. Fitch raised Israel's foreign currency issuer rating to "A" from "A-" and also upgraded its local currency issuer rating to "A" from "A" with a stable outlook. At the same time, Fitch said the Palestinian security threats remained a constraint and could derail the economy. Last November, international credit rating agency Standard & Poor's raised its outlook for Israel, citing improved resilience of public finances and the economy to geopolitical risks after a four-year period of uninterrupted and above-expectation fiscal consolidation, external asset accumulation and robust economic growth, as well as strong political commitment to long-term fiscal consolidation. Fitch's and Standard & Poor's announcements have sent an important message to investors about Israel's economic strength and the attractiveness of government bonds, Accountant-General Shuki Oren said Monday. Fitch's move gave further proof that Israel as a country was emerging to be part of the world's most developed economies, Finance Ronnie Bar-On said Monday. "This is further proof that economic policies implemented by the government put Israel on the same level as OECD countries," he said. Last month, a senior Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development delegation visited Israel to initiate a complex process aimed at granting Israel membership in the organization. Bar-On stressed the importance of maintaining fiscal discipline within the budget framework, and deficit and public spending targets as directed by the government.