Rating Agencies 'Behind the Curve' on Philippines - the fastest growing economies in ASEAN

One of Southeast Asia's fastest growing economies - the Philippines - got a ratings upgrade last year, but its finance secretary Cesar Purisima told CNBC the agencies were still "behind the curve" and the Philippines deserved a higher credit rating.

All three agencies Fitch, Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's have kept the Philippines at one notch below the coveted investment grade. The latter two agencies upgraded the rating to that level only last year.

"The market rates are two notches above investment grade already, so we're borrowing at a much cheaper cost than our credit rating. So I think they [the credit rating agencies] are way behind the curve," said Cesar Purisima.

The Southeast Asian economy has benefitted from strong growth in recent years. It grew by 6.6 percent in 2012 and the government is targeting similar growth in 2013.

Answering a question on why the Philippines was "obsessively" pursuing a credit ratings upgrade Purisima said: "No it is not obsessive. It's just making sure that they recognize what is the proper rating of the Philippines."

The finance secretary also said he was planning to develop the local bond market by trying to encourage more corporates to borrow from the market rather than from banks.

"Economies have cycles. And in a down cycle if the majority of borrowing is through banks, then you risk creating problems in the banking system. But if you have a big share in the bond market then it is just asset prices," he said.

Purisima said Philippines' turnaround has been fueled by a transformation in the quality of governance.

"Good governance equals good economics. Basically that is what held back the Philippines in the past - bad governance," he said.

However, unemployment levels remain a sticking point for the growing economy. The Philippines' unemployment rate increased to 7.1 percent in the final quarter of 2012 from 6.8 percent in the third quarter.

The government is directing resources into the tourism, agriculture, business process outsourcing (BPO) and infrastructure sectors to create more jobs, said Purisima.


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