Fitch Affirms Mexico at 'BBB+'; Outlook Stable

NEW YORK--()--Fitch Ratings has affirmed Mexico's Long-term foreign and local currency IDRs at 'BBB+' and 'A-', respectively. In addition, Fitch has affirmed the issue ratings on Mexico's senior unsecured foreign and local currency bonds at 'BBB+' and 'A-', respectively. The Outlooks on the Long-term IDRs are Stable. The Country Ceiling has been affirmed at 'A' and the Short-term foreign currency IDR at 'F2'.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

The Mexican economy has been buffeted by the decline in oil prices and production, subdued growth in the U.S. and increased international financial volatility. However, the authorities have been proactive in their response to accommodate a less favorable external environment. The government announced pre-emptive public sector spending cuts (0.7% of GDP) for this year and intends to introduce additional cuts for 2016 to bolster confidence in public finances, which are particularly dependent on oil income. The authorities have allowed the peso to weaken to adjust to the new external scenario and complemented this with rules-based FX intervention mechanisms to contain FX volatility and ensure orderly functioning of the market.

Mexico's economic recovery is relatively subdued with Fitch forecasting growth to reach 2.5% in 2015 before picking up to an average of above 3% in 2016-17. The less favorable external environment, combined with subdued domestic confidence and reduced oil output are weighing on near-term growth. Fitch expects improved external demand, depreciation of the real exchange rate, and progress on implementation of economic reforms to support a pick-up in growth in 2016-17. Downside risks could come from U.S. under-performance, higher domestic financial volatility, a further contraction in oil output and failure of investment and confidence to recover materially.

Mexico continues to make headway in implementing the structural reforms passed in recent years, which could raise medium term investment and growth prospects, if executed well. The reduction in telecom rates and the recent announcements of foreign investment in this sector highlight the positive spill overs of the reform. Round One of auctions related to the oil reform is proceeding. However, early results for shallow-water fields underperformed expectations highlighting the execution challenges to the process, especially in light of lower oil prices. The authorities are expected to announce further tenders during 2015 including for deep water fields. Private investment (including FDI) is also expected to stream into ancillary oil/gas activities as well as the electricity sector during 2016-17.

Macroeconomic stability remains well-anchored, underpinned by modest current account deficits (forecast to average 2.6% of GDP during 2015-17) and low inflation. Notwithstanding the depreciation of the peso and low interest rates, inflation has declined further in 2015, reaching below 3% in June. The start of US Fed tightening could renew peso volatility and increase price pressures. The high proportion of non-resident holdings of domestic government debt represents a source of vulnerability in the context of normalization of monetary policy in the U.S. Fitch expects the Mexican authorities to take the necessary actions to maintain financial stability and the credibility of their policy framework. In addition, Fitch believes that Mexico's flexible exchange rate, enhanced international reserves position, access to IMF's Flexible Credit Line and proactive policy actions are important mitigating factors.

The government remains committed to a gradual fiscal consolidation path to meet its medium-term fiscal targets notwithstanding lower oil income. The immediate impact of lower oil prices on the federal government budget is being cushioned by the oil hedge in 2015, a weaker peso and increases in non-oil revenues thanks to the implementation of the 2014 tax reform. These factors, along with the spending cuts, should facilitate the achievement of the narrow non-financial public sector deficit target (excluding investments of Pemex, CFE and certain high impact projects) of 1% of GDP in 2015. Failure to effectively cut spending and/or faster reductions in oil production are downside risks for fiscal accounts.

Fitch expects the government to make further fiscal adjustments in 2016 as oil income will likely remain under pressure. In this regard, the government is preparing to implement a zero-based budgetary framework to prevent inertial growth in spending. Adherence to the consolidation strategy should enable Mexico to stabilize the government debt burden and eventually put it on a downward path. Weaker growth and failure to consolidate are the main downside risks for government debt dynamics. Mexico's excellent access to international capital markets and the steady development of local capital markets support fiscal financing flexibility.

The mid-term elections resulted in a more fragmented lower house but the ruling PRI party along with its coalition allies maintained a simple majority, which should facilitate annual budget negotiations. Fitch does not anticipate an aggressive reform agenda that would need congressional approval during the remainder of the administration as several important initiatives have already been passed. Although crime rates in Mexico have shown steady declines since their 2011 peak, weak institutions and capacity constraints at the state and judicial levels and a perception of corruption could continue to detract from securing significant security gains.

Mexico's 'BBB+' ratings are supported by the country's disciplined economic policies, well-anchored macroeconomic stability and low imbalances, and an adequately capitalized banking sector. These strengths sufficiently counterbalance Mexico's rating constraints, which include structural weaknesses in its public finances, including low fiscal buffers relatively low financial intermediation and institutional weaknesses highlighted by the high incidence of drug-related violence and corruption.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

The Stable Outlook reflects Fitch's assessment that upside and downside risks to the rating are currently balanced. Fitch's sensitivity analysis does not currently anticipate developments with a high likelihood of leading to a rating change.

The main factors that individually, or collectively, could trigger a positive rating action include:

--A higher investment and growth trajectory that facilitates government debt reduction and reduces Mexico's income gap with higher-rated sovereigns;

--Increased fiscal flexibility and buffers to confront shocks

--Improvements in governance indicators that address Mexico's institutional weaknesses

The main factors that individually, or collectively, could trigger a negative rating action include:

--Weak economic performance and fiscal deterioration leading to a worsening of government debt dynamics;

--An inadequate policy response in the case of sustained pressure on oil fiscal income that dents confidence, flexibility, and credibility of fiscal policy

KEY ASSUMPTIONS

The ratings and Outlooks are sensitive to a number of assumptions:

--Fitch assumes that economic growth in U.S. will reach 2.2% in 2015 and 2.5% in 2016, which will be supportive for the Mexican economy given the strong trade and financial ties between the two countries.

--Fitch assumes that oil (Brent) price averages USD65/bbl in 2015 and USD75/bbl in 2016, although downside risks remain to these projections given the current volatility of oil prices.

--Fitch assumes that the Mexican government will adhere to its medium term fiscal consolidation plan with the narrow non-financial public sector deficit reaching a balanced position by 2017.

--Fitch assumes that the drug-related violence remains contained although it will continue to exact economic costs.

Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com

Applicable Criteria

Country Ceilings (pub. 28 Aug 2014)

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=752194

Sovereign Rating Criteria (pub. 12 Aug 2014)

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=754428

Additional Disclosures

Dodd-Frank Rating Information Disclosure Form

https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/press_releases/content/ridf_frame.cfm?pr_id=988846

Solicitation Status

https://www.fitchratings.com/gws/en/disclosure/solicitation?pr_id=988846

Endorsement Policy

https://www.fitchratings.com/jsp/creditdesk/PolicyRegulation.faces?context=2&detail=31

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Shelly Shetty
Senior Director
+1-212-908-0324
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Kelli Bissett-Tom
Associate Director
+1-212-908-0564
or
Committee Chairperson
Tony Stringer
Managing Director
+44 203 530 1219
or
Media Relations:
Alyssa Castelli, +1 212-908-0540
alyssa.castelli@fitchratings.com

Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst
Shelly Shetty
Senior Director
+1-212-908-0324
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10004
or
Secondary Analyst
Kelli Bissett-Tom
Associate Director
+1-212-908-0564
or
Committee Chairperson
Tony Stringer
Managing Director
+44 203 530 1219
or
Media Relations:
Alyssa Castelli, +1 212-908-0540
alyssa.castelli@fitchratings.com