Overview

  • Growing prosperity has gradually strengthened the resiliency of Aruba's economy, setting the stage for further fiscal consolidation, which is still in an incipient stage.
  • Aruba has strong ties with the Netherlands, solid local public institutions, a strong external asset position, and a wealthy, though highly concentrated, economy.
  • We are revising our outlook on Aruba to stable from negative and affirming our 'BBB+/A-2' long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings.
  • The stable outlook balances the rating strengths with limited monetary flexibility, a sizable gross general government debt burden, and poor record of GDP growth.

Rating Action

On Aug. 6, 2019, S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on Aruba to stable from negative. At the same time, we affirmed our 'BBB+/A-2' long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings on Aruba. In addition, we affirmed our 'BBB+' transfer and convertibility assessment.

Outlook

The stable outlook reflects our view that Aruba will continue making progress on its fiscal correction program over the next two years and stabilize the trajectory of government debt. We expect net general government debt, which includes liquid assets held by the public-sector pension fund, to average 34% of GDP in 2018, down from 36% in 2017-2018. In our view, Aruba's gradually strengthening prosperity boosts the resiliency of the economy. That should support further fiscal consolidation, which is in an incipient stage, despite structural rigidities in government spending and GDP growth prospects that are still below that of peers.

We could lower the ratings over the next two years if we see unexpected slippage in fiscal policy that results in a deteriorating net general government debt burden and a potential erosion of Aruba's net external profile. Poor fiscal performance could lead to a rising government interest burden, as measured against revenues. Similarly, negative external shocks could erode Aruba's net external position and potentially worsen its access to external financing. We could also lower the ratings if we see changes in Aruba's ties with the Netherlands that could, in our view, reduce institutional, policy, judicial, and political stability and predictability.

During the next 24 months, we could upgrade Aruba if we see policy execution that stabilizes the fiscal and debt trajectory, as well as higher and sustained economic growth.

Rationale

The ratings on Aruba reflect a stable political system based on a parliamentary democracy, its status as a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and its relatively wealthy economy, with a GDP per capita of $29,000. However, the heavy reliance on tourism as well as it track record of poor GDP growth weigh on our rating. Aruba's limited monetary flexibility, due to its long-standing currency peg with the U.S. dollar, and sizable gross general government debt burden, although partly offset by public-sector pension assets, also constrain the ratings.

Institutional and economic profile: Strong institutions should support the government's plans for fiscal consolidation, while economic growth is likely to remain subdued

  • Political and institutional stability in the Kingdom of the Netherlands will continue to support the ratings on Aruba.
  • Aruba is wealthier than most of its regional peers, although the economy highly relies on tourism.
  • Economic growth should remain modest as structural challenges are likely to continue.

Aruba is an autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with full autonomy in internal affairs. Its constitutional ties with the Kingdom support political and institutional stability, policy predictability, and judicial certainty. While the government of the Netherlands is responsible for Aruba's foreign affairs, security, and the higher judiciary, Aruba is responsible for its own fiscal and monetary policies. Aruba has a stable and mature parliamentary system of government. Political power has alternated in Aruba between the Aruban People's Party (AVP) and the People's Electoral Movement Party (MEP) since it gained "status aparte" (autonomy) within the Kingdom.

In 2015, the Kingdom Council, which includes the Netherlands and other members of the Dutch Kingdom, blocked Aruba's fiscal budget based on concerns about the deteriorating fiscal and debt trends. Subsequently, Aruba agreed with council members to create CAFT (College Aruba Financieel Toezicht), an independent council in charge of fiscal oversight. The CAFT was created under Aruban law and has members representing Aruba and the Netherlands. Aruba and CAFT reached an agreement on a fiscal consolidation path aimed at reaching a surplus of the consolidated government sector by 2018, which the government failed to achieve.

Since taking office in November 2017, the government of Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes (of the MEP) has implemented a number of policies to strengthen public-sector finances and stabilize the government's debt burden. During the first months in power, the government increased the turnover tax as a first measure toward fiscal consolidation. It also developed a wider reform agenda, which is designed to tackle the fiscal deficit and simplify the tax system. In November 2018, Aruba signed a new protocol with the Kingdom of Netherlands. The agreement allowed for an extension of the operational period of the CAFT, as well as established new fiscal balance and debt targets, which are in line with the government's reform agenda.

In our view, the agreed fiscal targets are ambitious. They envision a fiscal surplus of 0.5% of GDP in the government collective sector (which includes the central government and government-related entities and excludes public pension systems), down from a 2.5% of GDP deficit in 2018. Despite the administration's commitment to the protocol, we think that progress will be difficult. In particular, a very rigid spending structure, slowly increasing pressures due to the impact of Venezuelan immigration, and our expectations of sluggish GDP growth prospects are the main challenges.

That said, significant revisions to the country's GDP data published by the government's Department of Statistics in early 2019 revealed a much larger economy than previously estimated. Based on the new data, we now believe that Aruba's GDP per capita will just exceed US$29,000 in 2019, which is nearly 17% higher than our 2018 estimate. In our view, higher levels of wealth support the resiliency of the economy and should give more space for the government to implement its reform agenda.

Aruba is highly dependent on tourism, with much of the economy relying on this sector directly or indirectly. However, Aruba has maintained economic stability despite the loss of Venezuelan tourists in recent years and the closure of its oil refinery several years ago. In our base case, we do not assume that the refinery will be reopened. We expect that tourism receipts and tourism-related investments will remain the main drivers for GDP growth.

We forecast 0.9% annual GDP growth, on average, for the next three years, down from 2% in 2017. Economic growth should remain modest as structural challenges are likely to continue. We consider that the administration's efforts to develop a knowledge economy--such as higher education--could boost growth over the medium to long term. Although, it will be important for this to be accompanied by policies to tackle labor market rigidities and bureaucratic delays.

Flexibility and performance profile: Government's commitment to fiscal consolidation will gradually reduce the deficit and stabilize debt

  • Fiscal reforms will slow the growth of external and domestic debt.
  • Aruba will maintain its external creditor position.
  • A long-standing currency peg with the dollar constrains monetary policy.

A recent increase in taxation should help to gradually reduce the fiscal deficit and stabilize the debt burden, in our view. Soon after taking office, the Wever-Croes Administration implemented measures to boost the government's revenue base and reduce the fiscal deficit, as agreed to in the November 2018 protocol. After failing to comply with the 2017 target set out in the 2015 protocol, the new government sought an agreement with the Kingdom Council on a revised fiscal consolidation plan. The plan includes a more gradual consolidation, to achieve surplus by 2020 (two years after the 2018 initial target date under the previous agreement). At the same time, the government elaborated on its fiscal reform agenda, which it will gradually implement over the next two years.

The first stage of the reform, approved in January 2019, included changes in wage and land taxes as well as new taxes on alcoholic beverages. We consider the overall effect of these measures will be positive for tax revenues, as shown by collections thus far this year. However, other parts of the reform, including more specific taxes and changes in the corporate tax and tourism levy, could face more delays in their implementation.

Nonetheless, we expect Aruba's general government (which includes the public-sector pension funds and various social welfare funds) deficit to fall to 0.1% of GDP, on average, during 2019-2022, below the 1% of GDP average during 2015-2018.

In our view, the main challenges for complying with the targets are related to spending reduction, in particular payroll and transfers to the health care system. These could be more challenging to pursue especially due to rising spending pressures coming from the presence of Venezuelan migrants.

We expect small fiscal deficits will stabilize the debt burden, though interest expenses should remain high, just below 10% of revenues over the next two to three years. We expect Aruba's net general government debt to average 34% of GDP during 2019-2022. Our definition of net general government debt includes the liquid assets held by APFA (the public-sector pension fund), which represent 27% of the GDP.

We view contingent liabilities as limited, including those posed by the financial sector. The sovereign's potential exposure to nonfinancial public-sector liabilities is also limited. We estimate total debt of public companies to be less than 5% of GDP (issued mainly by the power and water utility, which services its own debt).

Our base case is that Aruba's current account balance will slightly worsen and post small current account deficits below 1% of GDP during 2019-2022, after three consecutive years of surpluses between 2015-2017. The slight deterioration is largely due to higher imports in 2019-2020 associated with the implementation of several infrastructure projects (airport renovation, new hotels, and a hospital) and a decline in tourism growth to more normal levels after the 2017 hurricane that hit other Caribbean islands and diverted tourism inflows to Aruba in 2018.

Nonetheless, inflows of foreign direct investment should fully finance the modest current account deficit, helping to sustain Aruba's international reserves. We expect Aruba's gross external financing needs to remain around 108% of current account receipts (CAR) plus usable reserves during 2019-2022. Aruba should also preserve its external creditor position in the next two years, thanks to continued fiscal consolidation coupled with greater reliance on domestic markets for funding and expected growing external assets of the public pension fund.

Aruba's limited monetary and exchange rate flexibility constrains its ability to respond to external shocks. The Aruban florin is fixed with the U.S. dollar. We expect that the central bank will continue to primarily rely on reserve requirements to influence domestic credit growth. This was recently increased to 12%, from 11% over the last decade. There are a few foreign currency controls, such as the 40/60 rule, which requires that regulated financial institutions (such as pension funds and insurance companies) allocate a minimum share of their investments locally.

Key Statistics

Table 1

Aruba--Selected Indicators
2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019f 2020f 2021f 2022f
Economic indicators (%)
Nominal GDP (bil. LC) 4.84 4.95 5.23 5.31 5.47 5.73 5.88 6.06 6.25 6.45
Nominal GDP (bil. $) 2.70 2.77 2.92 2.97 3.06 3.20 3.28 3.39 3.49 3.61
GDP per capita (000s $) 25.4 25.6 26.7 26.8 27.5 28.6 29.0 29.6 30.1 30.7
Real GDP growth 4.2 0.3 5.7 2.0 2.0 0.9 0.8 0.9 0.9 1.0
Real GDP per capita growth 2.4 (1.1) 4.4 0.8 1.6 0.2 (0.4) (0.3) (0.3) (0.2)
Real investment growth (7.2) (1.7) (2.0) 1.3 (0.9) (0.8) 3.9 0.0 (0.7) (1.7)
Investment/GDP 23.7 23.3 21.6 21.4 20.8 20.3 20.9 20.7 20.5 20.3
Savings/GDP 11.4 18.2 24.1 24.1 20.9 19.6 20.1 20.1 20.0 19.8
Exports/GDP 76.5 77.6 73.5 71.3 73.3 75.2 76.0 76.1 76.2 76.0
Real exports growth 22.2 1.7 0.2 (1.0) 4.9 2.2 1.9 1.0 1.0 0.8
Unemployment rate 7.6 7.5 7.3 7.7 8.9 7.3 7.5 7.5 7.5 7.5
External indicators (%)
Current account balance/GDP (12.3) (5.1) 2.6 2.7 0.1 (0.6) (0.7) (0.6) (0.5) (0.6)
Current account balance/CARs (14.5) (5.8) 2.9 3.2 0.2 (0.7) (0.9) (0.7) (0.6) (0.7)
CARs/GDP 85.2 88.2 88.6 84.0 80.3 84.4 83.9 83.4 82.9 82.2
Trade balance/GDP (40.6) (39.4) (31.5) (28.8) (32.4) (32.3) (32.1) (31.6) (31.0) (30.4)
Net FDI/GDP 8.3 8.8 (1.3) (0.9) 2.6 3.4 2.9 1.6 1.5 1.2
Net portfolio equity inflow/GDP 2.7 3.9 2.1 1.3 (3.1) 1.0 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3
Gross external financing needs/CARs plus usable reserves 125.2 117.1 113.2 111.6 109.9 110.3 109.0 108.1 108.6 107.8
Narrow net external debt/CARs 5.8 14.8 10.6 1.0 (3.1) (1.7) (4.4) (5.8) (7.2) (8.2)
Narrow net external debt/CAPs 5.0 14.0 10.9 1.0 (3.1) (1.7) (4.4) (5.7) (7.1) (8.1)
Net external liabilities/CARs 127.3 134.3 124.9 119.5 118.3 112.3 111.2 109.2 107.3 105.4
Net external liabilities/CAPs 111.2 127.0 128.6 123.5 118.5 111.5 110.2 108.4 106.6 104.7
Short-term external debt by remaining maturity/CARs 19.9 16.4 15.5 15.7 15.9 14.0 12.3 13.1 14.2 13.9
Usable reserves/CAPs (months) 0.8 0.5 (0.1) 0.1 0.6 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.7
Usable reserves (mil. $) 105 (15) 20 128 107 108 150 166 186 190
Fiscal indicators (general government; %)
Balance/GDP (4.9) (6.1) (2.7) (1.6) 0.4 (0.3) (0.1) (0.2) (0.2) (0.0)
Change in net debt/GDP 4.8 5.7 2.5 3.2 0.7 1.5 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.0
Primary balance/GDP (1.5) (2.3) 1.1 2.5 4.4 3.5 3.8 3.7 3.6 3.7
Revenue/GDP 37.8 37.3 37.3 38.5 40.5 38.3 39.9 39.6 39.5 39.5
Expenditures/GDP 42.7 43.3 40.1 40.1 40.1 38.6 40.0 39.8 39.7 39.5
Interest/revenues 9.0 10.2 10.4 10.7 10.0 10.0 9.9 9.8 9.7 9.5
Debt/GDP 55.0 59.6 59.8 62.1 62.4 62.3 61.7 60.9 60.0 59.1
Debt/revenues 145.3 159.9 160.2 161.1 154.3 162.4 154.8 153.6 152.0 149.5
Net debt/GDP 28.5 33.5 34.3 36.9 36.6 36.4 35.7 34.8 34.0 32.9
Liquid assets/GDP 26.5 26.0 25.5 25.1 25.9 25.8 26.1 26.1 26.1 26.2
Monetary indicators (%)
CPI growth 0.1 2.2 (0.9) (0.3) (0.3) 4.6 1.7 2.2 2.2 2.2
GDP deflator growth 2.3 2.1 (0.1) (0.5) 1.0 3.9 1.7 2.2 2.2 2.2
Exchange rate, year-end (LC/$) 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79 1.79
Banks' claims on resident non-gov't sector growth 5.2 4.2 (0.2) 1.8 3.3 5.6 2.5 3.1 3.1 3.2
Banks' claims on resident non-gov't sector/GDP 59.7 60.8 57.5 57.6 57.7 58.1 58.1 58.1 58.1 58.1
Foreign currency share of claims by banks on residents N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Foreign currency share of residents' bank deposits 18.4 16.7 13.5 11.1 9.4 8.4 8.4 8.4 8.4 8.4
Real effective exchange rate growth (5.2) (5.8) (100) N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Definitions: Savings is defined as investment plus the current account surplus (deficit). Investment is defined as expenditure on capital goods, including plant, equipment, and housing, plus the change in inventories. Banks are other depository corporations other than the central bank, whose liabilities are included in the national definition of broad money. Gross external financing needs are defined as current account payments plus short-term external debt at the end of the prior year plus nonresident deposits at the end of the prior year plus long-term external debt maturing within the year. Narrow net external debt is defined as the stock of foreign and local currency public- and private- sector borrowings from nonresidents minus official reserves minus public-sector liquid assets held by nonresidents minus financial-sector loans to, deposits with, or investments in nonresident entities. A negative number indicates net external lending. N/A--Not applicable. LC--Local currency. CARs--Current account receipts. FDI--Foreign direct investment. CAPs--Current account payments. e--Estimate. f--Forecast. The data and ratios above result from S&P Global Ratings' own calculations, drawing on national as well as international sources, reflecting S&P Global Ratings' independent view on the timeliness, coverage, accuracy, credibility, and usability of available information.

Ratings Score Snapshot

Table 2

Aruba--Ratings Score Snapshot
Key rating factors Score Explanation
Institutional assessment 2 Track record of corrective economic policies, which should sustain healthy public finance and economic growth in the middle to long term. The links with the Netherlands and the presence of the CFT reinforces the check and balances. Highest court is in the Hague. Strong rule of law, control of corruption, and political stability. Generally timely and reliable information. Cohesive civil society. High social inclusion, among the highest living standards in the Caribbean.
Economic assessment 4 Based on GDP per capita ($) as per Selected Indicators in Table 1.
Weighted average real GDP per capita trend growth over a 10-year period is 0.4%, which is well below sovereigns in the same GDP category.
Concentrated economy, highly dependent on tourism.
External assessment 3 Based on narrow net external debt and gross external financing needs as per Selected Indicators in Table 1.
The country is exposed to significant volatility in terms of trade mainly because of its dependence on hydrocarbons imports.
Fiscal assessment: flexibility and performance 1 Based on the change in net general government debt (% of GDP) as per Selected Indicators in Table 1.
Based on liquid assets/GDP as per Selected Indicators in Table 1. Those assets are held by the public pension fund APFA.
Fiscal assessment: debt burden 3 Based on net general government debt (% of GDP) and general government interest expenditures (% of general government revenues) as per Selected Indicators in Table 1.
50% of gross general government debt is denominated in foreign currency.
Monetary assessment 4 Aruba’s currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar.
The central bank has track record of independence and relies on reserve requirements; CPI as per selected indicators in Table 1. The central bank has ability to act as lender of last resort for the financial system. Depository corporation claims on residents in local currency and nonsovereign local currency bond market capitalization combined amount to about 58% of GDP.
Indicative rating a- As per Table 1 of "Sovereign Rating Methodology."
Notches of supplemental adjustments and flexibility (1) We apply this adjustment to avoid excessive volatility in rating arising from Aruba's dependence on tourism, which is among the highest in the world. A large setback in tourism could worsen both our initial external assessment and debt assessment (through economic contraction that contributes to worsening of sovereign's Interest/Revenues metric). In addition, it could potentially result in risk of marked deterioration in access to external funding, leading to a multinotch downgrade of the indicative rating.
Final rating
Foreign currency BBB+
Notches of uplift 0
Local currency BBB+
S&P Global Ratings' analysis of sovereign creditworthiness rests on its assessment and scoring of five key rating factors: (i) institutional assessment; (ii) economic assessment; (iii) external assessment; (iv) the average of fiscal flexibility and performance, and debt burden; and (v) monetary assessment. Each of the factors is assessed on a continuum spanning from 1 (strongest) to 6 (weakest). S&P Global Ratings' "Sovereign Rating Methodology," published on Dec. 18, 2017, details how we derive and combine the scores and then derive the sovereign foreign currency rating. In accordance with S&P Global Ratings' sovereign ratings methodology, a change in score does not in all cases lead to a change in the rating, nor is a change in the rating necessarily predicated on changes in one or more of the scores. In determining the final rating the committee can make use of the flexibility afforded by §15 and §§126-128 of the rating methodology.

Related Criteria

Related Research

In accordance with our relevant policies and procedures, the Rating Committee was composed of analysts that are qualified to vote in the committee, with sufficient experience to convey the appropriate level of knowledge and understanding of the methodology applicable (see 'Related Criteria And Research'). At the onset of the committee, the chair confirmed that the information provided to the Rating Committee by the primary analyst had been distributed in a timely manner and was sufficient for Committee members to make an informed decision.

After the primary analyst gave opening remarks and explained the recommendation, the Committee discussed key rating factors and critical issues in accordance with the relevant criteria. Qualitative and quantitative risk factors were considered and discussed, looking at track-record and forecasts.

The committee's assessment of the key rating factors is reflected in the Ratings Score Snapshot above.

The chair ensured every voting member was given the opportunity to articulate his/her opinion. The chair or designee reviewed the draft report to ensure consistency with the Committee decision. The views and the decision of the rating committee are summarized in the above rationale and outlook. The weighting of all rating factors is described in the methodology used in this rating action (see 'Related Criteria And Research').

Ratings List

Ratings Affirmed; Outlook Action
To From

Aruba

Sovereign Credit Rating BBB+/Stable/A-2 BBB+/Negative/A-2
Ratings Affirmed

Aruba

Transfer & Convertibility Assessment BBB+
Senior Unsecured BBB+

Certain terms used in this report, particularly certain adjectives used to express our view on rating relevant factors, have specific meanings ascribed to them in our criteria, and should therefore be read in conjunction with such criteria. Please see Ratings Criteria at www.standardandpoors.com for further information. Complete ratings information is available to subscribers of RatingsDirect at www.capitaliq.com. All ratings affected by this rating action can be found on S&P Global Ratings' public website at www.standardandpoors.com. Use the Ratings search box located in the left column.

Primary Credit Analyst:Manuel Orozco, Sao Paulo (55) 11-3039-4819;
manuel.orozco@spglobal.com
Secondary Contacts:Carolina Caballero, Buenos Aires (54) 114-891-2118;
carolina.caballero@spglobal.com
Lisa M Schineller, PhD, New York (1) 212-438-7352;
lisa.schineller@spglobal.com

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