(Reuters) - Fitch Ratings does not expect to cut France's triple-A credit rating this year, while countries under review such as Italy or Spain could be downgraded by one or two notches, the agency's EMEA ratings head said on Tuesday.
Fitch put Belgium, Spain, Slovenia, Italy, Ireland and Cyprus on negative watch late last year, with a conclusion expected by March. France has a negative rating outlook from Fitch, which normally means that it could be downgraded within two years.
On the basis of some current economic and fiscal trends in France ... we wouldn't expect to downgrade France this year, unless there is a material deterioration in the euro zone, Ed Parker, head of EMEA sovereign ratings, told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a Fitch seminar.
Austria, which together with France has underperformed its top-rated peers in debt markets over the past few days due to its exposure to recently-downgraded Hungary, is also not at immediate risk of having its rating cut.
One of the main risks when we look at Austria is (that) the exposure of its banks to eastern Europe and Hungary at the moment is a concern, Parker said.
But overall in the portfolio a lot of the exposure is to the more stable and better performing economies in eastern Europe like the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
Germany and other top-rated countries with a stable outlook were safe as long as the euro zone crisis did not significantly deteriorate, but Parker warned that the longer the crisis lasted the bigger the risks on ratings.
Another rating agency, Standard & Poor's, is expected to announce the conclusions of its review on euro zone ratings soon, after it warned late last year it could downgrade most of the bloc, including France and Germany.
Parker said he expected the euro zone to muddle through its crisis and that the European Central Bank may have to take a more activist role to deal with the solvent, but illiquid sovereigns such as Italy or Spain and safeguard the currency union.
The ECB's role is at the centre of debate in the crisis and Germany has led resistance to calls for the bank to step up its purchases of Italian and Spanish sovereign bonds.
Italy and Spain are seen as most exposed to an escalation of the crisis, particularly as they start their tricky debt financing quest for this year with debt auctions this week.