BRUSSELS - US rating agency Standard & Poor's cut its credit rating of the euro zone's EFSF rescue fund on Monday, and Greece was under pressure to break a deadlock in debt swap talks if it is to avoid an unruly default.
French Finance Minister Francois Baroin said there was no need to shore up the European Financial Stability Facility after S&P downgraded it by one notch to AA+ from triple-A, echoing the view of Germany, the only major euro zone member to retain a top-notch credit rating.
S&P said in a statement the decision was all but inevitable following identical cuts three days earlier to the creditworthiness of France and Austria, two of the EFSF's guarantors.
"We consider that credit enhancements that would offset what we view as the now-reduced creditworthiness of the EFSF's guarantors and securities backing the EFSF's issues are currently not in place," the agency said in a statement.
"We have therefore lowered to AA+ the issuer credit rating of the EFSF, as well as the issue ratings on its long-term debt securities."
A growing number of experts, including a Standard & Poor's official, warned that a Greek default was on the cards, after Greece's talks with creditors broke down on Friday.
Greece was under growing pressure to secure a last-ditch agreement with its private creditors to accept voluntary losses on their holdings of Greek bonds.
Athens risks going bankrupt when 14.5 billion euros of bond redemptions fall due in late March. Without a private sector bond swap involving a voluntary writedown, a 130 billion euro second international bailout for Greece could fall apart.
The talks with creditor banks broke down because of different views on what interest rate is acceptable, the head of the group leading private sector talks said.
Charles Dallara, managing director of the Institute of International Financial, said the banks were "very surprised" at the stance taken by some officials representing both governments and multilateral institutions, without naming them.
The EFSF was set up by the 17 governments that share the European single currency in May 2010 and has so far been used to provide emergency loans to Ireland and Portugal. It is also expected to contribute to a second bailout of Greece.
The fund has an effective lending capacity of 440 billion euros, which depends on guarantees, mainly from the euro zone's AAA countries, only four of which now remain: Germany, Luxembourg, Finland and the Netherlands.