Paris - The number of countries with a top-notch sovereign credit rating fell to the lowest level in 13 years last year, the international rating agency Fitch said on Thursday.
"The number of Fitch-rated sovereigns with 'AAA' ratings is at its lowest level since 2003 and is expected to remain unchanged over the next two years," Fitch said in a statement.
"Eleven countries have 'AAA' status, compared with an all-time high of 16 during 2004 to 2009, reflecting the longer term impact of the global financial crisis," the agency said.
The 11 countries with the most stable ratings are: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
Fitch said that all of the 11 countries had a "stable" outlook, "suggesting we do not anticipate downgrades in the coming 12 to 24 months." At the same time, no country with an 'AA+' rating - the next step down from triple-A - had a "Positive Outlook, suggesting upgrades to 'AAA' are unlikely over the same time-frame." Japan was the first sovereign to lose its triple-A rating in 1998, followed by another six in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, namely Austria, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and Britain.
Australia was the only sovereign to have been upgraded to 'AAA' in the last decade, in November 2011, Fitch said.
No former 'AAA' sovereign had ever regained its 'AAA' status, it added.
A sovereign credit rating gives investors insight into the level of risk associated with investing in a particular country.
Enjoying a good sovereign credit rating enables a country to access funding in international bond markets.