International credit rating agency Standard & Poor's is raising Israel's sovereign-debt rating up a notch, from A with a stable outlook to A + with a stable outlook. Israel's credit rating was last raised in November 2007, when it was bumped up from A- to A.
This is considered international recognition of Israel's economic strength. It could bring in more foreign investment, and will enable the government and local companies to take out loans more cheaply on the international market.
The Finance Ministry called the decision a confirmation of Israel's economic policy over the past few decades.
In its announcement Friday, S&P said it was motivated by Israel's responsible economic policy during the global financial crisis in 2008 and Israel's high growth rate. Israel is on the way to further reducing its debt-to-GDP ratio, in part thanks to the royalties it is expected to receive from natural-gas sales, it noted.
The social protest is unlikely to influence Israel's responsible financial policy of reducing the national debt and maintaining fiscal discipline, S&P said. It added that increased supervision of concentrated sectors and giving social issues preference in government expenditures is unlikely to meet protesters' demands.
Despite the increase in home prices, S&P does not believe Israel's financial system is at risk, and it noted that its banks are conservatively managed and closely regulated.
However, geopolitical risk is still a factor pulling down Israel's credit rating, it said. While this is partially offset by U.S. support for Israel, S&P would consider further raising Israel's rating if it reduced the security threats it faces.
The rating process began more than a month ago, when S&P representatives visited Israel. They were hosted by the Finance Ministry's accountant general, and met with ministry officials and Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer.
They had an hour-long meeting scheduled with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, but the meeting lasted two hours because Steinitz - in the words of ministry officials - "drove them crazy" with descriptions of every single one of Israel's economic accomplishments.
That was around the time when the social protest was gathering momentum. The representatives reportedly were very impressed that the protest was not violent.
Steinitz had told them he would not support any calls to increase the government budget in response to the social protest.
The representatives also spoke with local rating-agency officials, and discussed Israel's debt-to-GDP ratio, economic growth, natural-gas royalties and the social protest.
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