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Fitch revises outlook on Macao to negative on increasing links with China

Fitch Ratings revised its outlook on Macao to negative from stable, citing the Asian territory's growing economic, financial, and socio-political ties with mainland China, where economic growth is expected to weaken.

The negative outlook also reflects the rationale that Macao's linkages with China "are consistent with a gradual convergence of their respective sovereign ratings," Fitch said.

Fitch affirmed Macao's long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating at AA, noting that the territory's economic policies and business and regulatory environments "remain distinct" from those of mainland China. However, such assumptions "are now evolving as China's Special Administrative Regions become more closely integrated into the national governance system," Fitch cautioned.

The rating agency projected Macao's GDP to contract by 2.5% in 2019 and log zero growth in 2020, due to its gaming sector's downturn, and weaker construction and investment activities.

"Slower growth in mainland China has had a dampening effect on Macao's gaming sector," said Fitch, which warned that the territory's heavy economic dependence on the gaming sector exposes it to external shocks.

The gaming hub's growth outlook could also be indirectly impacted by U.S.-China trade tensions if the mainland's expansion projections are lowered, the rating agency added.

Macao's strong fiscal metrics support its credit ratings, according to Fitch. The territory's fiscal reserves are expected to expand to 152% of GDP in 2019 from 136% in 2018. Its fiscal surplus is forecast to reach 11.5% of GDP in 2019 and 11% of GDP in 2020.