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S&P affirms Portugal credit rating

Standard and Poor’s said Tuesday it affirmed the credit ratings on bailed-out Portugal, with the outlook remaining negative, meaning the level could be lowered in the future.

S&P, one of the top three ratings agencies, said Portugal was “strongly committed” to its EU-IMF debt rescue programme and the tough fiscal targets set, which it should be able to get close to — by introducing additional austerity measures if need be.

In its assessment, the agency warned that Portuguese economy “is likely to contract in the near term more severely than we previously expected due to weaker external demand and tighter credit conditions.”

Despite the efforts already made, S&P said “Portugal’s high levels of public and private sector debt, along with its weak external liquidity and high external debt, remain rating constraints.”

S&P said Portugal’s national debt would peak at 106 percent of GDP in 2013 but that Lisbon would continue to find funding support from outside lenders.

The circumstances remained fragile, however, and S&P justified its negative outlook for Portugal on “implementation risks related to the EU-IMF program, which could affect our assessment of Portugal’s political commitment or the fiscal risks.”

Centre-right Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who came to office in June, promises to broaden reforms in Portugal, the third country to have received a bailout by the EU and IMF after Greece and Ireland.

Portugal has already passed a wave of reforms including a hike in transport prices, increased taxes on gas and electricity and cutbacks in the public work force.

In July, ratings agency Moody’s slashed Portugal by four notches.