x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

New ratings agency sets up in region

A Kuwaiti professor has set up the region's first full-service credit ratings agency as a home-grown alternative to the big three that dominate in the Gulf.

A Kuwaiti professor has set up the region's first full-service credit ratings agency as a home-grown alternative to the big three that dominate in the Gulf. The new agency, called Capital Standards, will compete with established players such as Standard & Poor's (S&P), Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service, said Amani Bouresli, the Kuwait University finance professor who founded the company and serves as its chairman.

The establishment of Capital Standards follows a wave of downgrades that have heightened tensions between Gulf companies and the big international ratings companies. In several cases, ratings have been withdrawn amid downgrades and disputes over changing assumptions of government support after the announcement of a US$26 billion (Dh95.49bn) debt restructuring at the Dubai Government-owned group Dubai World.

"If you want to function in this market, you have to understand the legal and cultural factors affecting the market, and believe me, you must be from this region to be able to understand all of this," Prof Bouresli said. "That's the main reason why we started the company," she said. Capital Standards was incorporated and licensed last year in Kuwait and is preparing to assign its first ratings. A ratings scale ranging from "AAA" to "D" has been established, along with guidelines for gauging the risk that companies and governments will default on debt.

"It's a huge thing, it's not easy, and we are just now starting," Prof Bouresli said. Ratings agencies play a critical role in capital markets, informing investors' perceptions of the financial stability of companies and governments, and helping determine what interest rates those institutions pay when they borrow money. Those with lower ratings generally must pay higher interest rates to entice investors and might find it harder to attract capital.

Jan Plantagie, the regional manager for the Middle East at S&P, said the introduction of a new local competitor would be welcome. Local ratings companies coexist with the international agencies in many countries, he said. @Email:afitch@thenational.ae