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Fitch Ratings downgrades Lebanon, S&P maintains its ratings

BEIRUT (AP) — Fitch Ratings downgraded Lebanon's long-term foreign currency issuer default rating to CCC from B- Friday, while Standard & Poor's Global Ratings affirmed its long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings for Beirut at B-/B, saying the country's outlook remains negative.

The international rating agency's downgrade for Lebanon is another blow to the struggling economy of the small Arab country that is suffering from one of the world's highest debt ratios, high unemployment and little growth.

Fitch's rating report that came minutes before Standard & Poor's release said the downgrade reflects intensifying pressure on Lebanon's financing model, increasing risks to the government's debt-servicing capacity.

It added that downward pressure on banking sector deposits and central bank foreign reserves and increasing dependence on unorthodox measures by the central bank to attract inflows illustrate increased stress on financing. The government is largely relying on financing from the central bank, both in domestic debt markets and for repayment of Eurobonds, Fitch said.

Standard & Poor's said the negative outlook reflects that "we could lower our ratings on Lebanon in the next six-12 months if banking system deposits" and the central bank foreign exchange reserves continue to fall, likely reflecting a weak policy environment and impaired market access.

Lebanon's Finance Ministry said in a statement late Friday that the two ratings are a reminder for Lebanon's government to reduce its deficit and implement reforms. It said that the reforms have already started and they will be increased as of next year.

"This is to say that Lebanon can overcome difficulties and there should be no hesitation not even for one moment," the ministry said.

Last month, Lebanon's parliament ratified a controversial austerity budget that aims to save the indebted economy.

Lebanon has one of the world's highest public debts in the world, standing at 150% of GDP. Growth has plummeted and budget deficit reached 11% of GDP as economic activities slowed and remittances from Lebanese living abroad shrank.

In February, Moody's downgraded Lebanon's issuer ratings to Caa1 from B3 while changing the outlook to stable from negative.