The ratings agency Standard & Poor's said Friday that its erroneous downgrade of France arose when an automatic email was sent out after an old Web page on French banks was changed. France reacted with outrage and has ordered an investigation into this shocking error.

Standard & Poor's has determined that yesterday's erroneous message regarding a downgrade resulted from a technical error wholly unrelated to the sovereign rating on France, said the company in a statement.

In December 2010, it placed its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA) for France on the company's main Global Credit Portal. It issued a new review of BICRA rankings Thursday. Then the ranking page for France on the portal automatically was made N/A, or not available.

This resulted in a triggering of emails to subscribers notifying them of a downgrade of France, which has a top-flight AAA rating.

The system mistakenly interpreted this change as a 'downgrade' and triggered a message to a limited number of subscribers who had signed up to receive e-mail alerts, S&P said.

S&P has since reiterated France's rating of AAA/A-1+ with a stable outlook.

France's Finance Minister François Baroin reacted quickly to ward off concerns. We will do what we said. In 2013 we will reduce our deficit to the level we had before the crisis of 2008-2009. In 2016 we will have 0% deficit. We've shown over the past two years that we were in a position to adapt and show with the new plan, that we can adapt again, he said.