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New banks blow as our ratings are slashed yet again

In another blow to Ireland's struggling banking system, influential credit rating agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) has once again slashed its ratings amid concerns for the economy.

S&P believes that the taxpayer could end up paying more than €50bn to cover the banking crisis by 2011.

Ireland's banking system is now rated alongside Greece, Korea, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

This is a marked change from just over 12 months ago, when the country was ranked alongside Canada and Sweden in group one, and was considered to have one of the strongest banking systems in the world.

But the agency has now set Ireland in group four, downgrading Ireland's Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (Bicra) rating for the third time since late 2008.

And analysts have warned that if the economic downturn continues, Ireland could find itself placed in the same section as South Africa and Kuwait in group five. Individual Irish banks were also affected by the ratings, with AIB, Bank of Ireland, Anglo Irish Bank and Ulster Bank all cut by S&P.

And it was further negative news for Anglo Irish Bank as the agency has moved it towards junk-bond status for the first time, despite the bank having a Government guarantee.

Its rating was cut from BBB+ to BBB leaving the way open for Anglo to be downgraded to a junk rating. The ratings of Irish Life & Permanent, KBC Ireland and Barclays Bank Ireland were left unchanged.

S&P also predicted that many of the Irish banks would undergo restructuring over the coming year.

The agency said that the economic environment for Ireland "remains difficult for the banking sector" and is likely to remain so in 2011.

This will "continue to exert pressure on the performance of all loan classes," the ratings company said in a statement.

S&P raised its forecast for "potential problem loans" at Ireland's banks to between 15pc and 30pc of total loans from 10pc to 20pc previously.

It said reversing the cut in the risk assessment level to Group 4 is "unlikely for the foreseeable future".

Another reduction would "most likely occur if the economic downturn is even deeper or more prolonged than expected, leading to persistent earnings challenges and weaker investor support for the banks," it said.