By Christopher Bjork
MADRID--Ratings agency Moody's Investors Service has notified a raft of Spanish banks that it will downgrade their debt ratings as early as Monday, people familiar with the matter said Monday.
The fresh downgrades, expected after the close of US stock markets (2100 GMT), follow Moody's move of lowering Spain's sovereign debt rating by three notches on June 13. Most of the banks are expected to be downgraded by two or three notches, these people said.
Moody's, one of the three biggest ratings firms along with Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's, cut its rating on Spain to Baa3 from A3, putting it one level above junk status. Moody's also said it will keep Spain on review for a possible further downgrade. Moody's rates Spain the lowest among the three big ratings firms.
The two largest and healthiest Spanish banks, Banco Santander SA (SAN) and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA) have held ratings that are one notch above Spain's sovereign debt rating, thanks to their vast and highly profitable businesses outside Spain. Many of the smaller, domestically focused banks already have junk status at Moody's and at rival agencies.
Fitch cut its rating on Spain earlier in June to triple-B from single-A, which is one notch higher than where Moody's rates Spain on its respective scale. S&P downgraded Spain to triple-B-plus from single-A on April 26. That is one notch above Fitch's rating and two above the rating by Moody's.
Moody's had already cut 16 Spanish banks by one to three notches on May 17.
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