The French government and the European Commission are demanding a full investigation into how the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s mistakenly suggested on its website that France’s AAA credit rating had been down graded.
French Finance Minister Francois Baroin called S&P’s error “quite shocking” and asked regulators to investigate.
To head off any suggestion that France’s finances were in jeopardy, Baroin said: “We will not allow any negative message to pass. We have a strategy, a commitment in terms of deficit reduction.”
Chantal Hughes, a spokeswoman for the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, told reporters: “This incident is serious and it shows that in the current tense and volatile market situation, market players must exercise discipline and demonstrate a special sense of responsibility.”
Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier said in a statement: “This reinforces my conviction that Europe must have rigorous, strict and solid regulation for credit rating agencies, but not only for them.”
S&P’s mistake came at the worst possible moment for France, with markets worried the euro-zone debt crisis could spread.
The agency has offered little explanation about the causes of the accident saying only it was a technical error. It is investigating what happened.
The erroneous message was automatically disseminated to some subscribers of its credit ratings website. It was not clear how many clients saw the message.
“If recipients had clicked on the link in the alert, they would have seen that France’s rating was unchanged,” S&P’s spokesman Martin Winn said.
France still holds a top AAA rating with a stable outlook, it stressed.