A first in history: PH gets investment grade

·Kim Arveen Patria
General view shows of Makati financial district of Manila, pictured at night on January 19, 2010. The Philippines makes its biggest bet this weekend in a high-stakes bid to join the world's elite gaming destinations, with the launch of a $1.2-billion casino on Manila Bay

(UPDATE) The Philippines bagged a landmark vote of confidence as global debt watcher Fitch raised the country's credit rating to investment grade Wednesday.

For the first time in history, the Philippines is deemed as an economy where it is safe for global investors to pour in capital.

Fitch Ratings said the country's long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating (IDR) is now up to BBB- from BB+. The long-term local-currency IDR has likewise been raised to BBB from BBB-.

An investment grade is seen to lower the Philippines' borrowing cost, thereby increasing opportunities for the government to save.

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"The Philippine economy has been resilient, expanding 6.6% in 2012 amid a weak global economic backdrop," Fitch said in a statement posted on its website.

Key drivers for the credit rating hike, Fitch said, are strong external balance sheets, a persistent current account surplus and high remittances.

Fitch also lauded reforms implemented under the previous and present administrations, which it said led to "favorable macroeconomic outturns."

"Improvements in fiscal management begun under President Arroyo have made general government debt dynamics more resilient to shocks," Fitch said.

Fitch is the first debt watcher to give the Philippines an investment grade, even as two other rating firms place the Philippines only a notch lower.

Standard & Poor's considers the Philippines a BB+ market at present while Moody's Investors Service gave it a Ba1 rating.

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Welcoming the long-awaited credit rating upgrade, President Benigno Aquino III said the development will "encourage even greater interest and investments in our country."

"This is an institutional affirmation of our good governance agenda," Aquino said in a statement posted on the Official Gazette.

"Sound fiscal management and integrity-based leadership has led to a resurgent economy in the face of uncertainties in the global arena," he added.

Also commenting on the upgrade, Asian Development Bank Country Economist Norio Usui said it "can trigger the kind of investment that will help carry the country into its next phase of development."

"Prudent measures to attract investment, improve the business climate and diversify the economy have paved the way for growth," he added.

The ADB official however challenged authorities "to make that growth more inclusive by creating more and better jobs."

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