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Rating the UK: the British government's sovereign credit ratings, 1976–8

Gill, David James

Rating the UK: the British government's sovereign credit ratings, 1976–8 Thumbnail


Professor of International Relations


The UK received its first sovereign credit ratings in 1978. Despite having required financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund only 18 months earlier, the British government managed to secure ‘triple-A’ ratings from both Standard and Poor's and Moody's. Both assessments of creditworthiness reflected improving economic conditions but also British efforts to influence the sovereign ratings process. The Bank of England and the Treasury sought guidance from American investment banks to prepare for the ratings process and then controlled the flow of information available to the rating agencies accordingly, stressing the strengths of the national economy and downplaying the weaknesses. The British government subsequently launched its first bond issue in the New York market to high levels of investor demand. Consideration of these achievements complements the historiography concerning Britain's economic fortunes in the late 1970s. Scrutiny of events also offers a rare glimpse into the confidential sovereign ratings process. Both agencies relied on a combination of quantitative and qualitative evaluations of the UK. In addition, this article highlights the existence of a unique period in the history of sovereign credit ratings. From 1974 to 1985, the ratings industry enjoyed a cautious revival focused principally on ‘triple-A’ borrowers.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 5, 2014
Online Publication Date Jan 12, 2015
Publication Date Aug 1, 2015
Deposit Date Jul 15, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jul 15, 2015
Journal Economic History Review
Print ISSN 0013-0117
Electronic ISSN 1468-0289
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 68
Issue 3
Pages 1016-1037
Public URL
Publisher URL


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