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Fitch warns France could be downgraded next year

French President Francois Hollande (R) waits for a guest at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
French President Francois Hollande (R) waits for a guest at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - Fitch Ratings could strip France of its triple-A credit status next year if the country fails to meet its targets on debt reduction and its economy performs worse than forecast, one of the agency's top sovereign experts warned on Wednesday.

Fitch is the only of the three major rating firms to still rate France triple-A after Moody's cut it one notch earlier this month and Standard & Poor's did so in January.

Worries over the finances of the euro zone's second largest economy have bubbled under the surface through three years of debt crisis, but markets have so far given it the benefit of the doubt, focusing instead on Italy and Spain.

"We think it is challenging for France to hit its 3 percent deficit for 2013 particularly given its anemic growth prospects," Tony Stringer, managing director of Fitch's sovereign rating group told Reuters in an interview.

"Any underperformance on either fiscal consolidation or on fundamental economic reforms could lead to a downgrade in 2013."

Fitch currently expects France's economy to see 0.3 percent growth next year.

The head of France's debt agency told Reuters earlier on Wednesday he was seeing record buying of the country's bonds by investors in Asia and the Middle East and that a more stable euro zone should support future demand.

The country's borrowing costs are currently near record lows as the euro zone crisis leaves investors with fewer options but Stringer warned that yields could rise again.

"A flurry of bad economic news on the euro zone could reverse the tightening trends we have seen in yields, it could go the other way and we have said we do expect periods of markets volatility," he said.

(Additional reporting by Maryam Behmard; editing by Patrick Graham)