Croatia. The country's beaches on the Adriatic Sea draw so many visitors that tourism is almost 20 percent of the country's GDP. But since the recession is taking a bite out of travelers' pocketbooks, Croatia's economy is getting bitten as well. The government forecasts unemployment could rise as high as 12 percent this year. And a recent poll found that 78 percent of Croatians think the country is going in a bad direction, with unemployment cited as the primary reason. All this bad economic news might be one of the reasons S&P projects a possible rating decline for Croatia's BBB-rated bonds. The BBB rating means that Croatia does not have payment problems yet, but are in a position where their ability to pay for debt could be easily weakened.
Kazakhstan. While the Central Asian nation's GDP has grown in recent years, Kazakhstan has two problems that have created the potential for economic disaster: a reliance on foreign lending and a reliance on oil. Kazakhstan holds 3.2 percent of world's oil reserves. But the soaring oil prices that have boosted Kazakhstan's economy are no more, and investors have pulled money out of Kazakhstan in response. The cost of buying protection against Kazakhstan's debt has skyrocketed about 75 percent during the past year. The cost is back up to a peak reached in October, and it currently costs $875,000 a year to insure $10 million of Kazakhstan's debt. S&P has a negative outlook on Kazakhstan's BBB-rated sovereign bonds, meaning they could get riskier in the next six months to two years.
Vietnam. Unlike many of the other countries on this list, Vietnam has had some good news recently. The Asian Development Bank forecasted Vietnam's economic growth at 4.5 percent for the next year, the highest in Southeast Asia. Yet the country just registered its slowest economic growth in a decade. A survey found that 46 percent of Vietnamese were afraid of unemployment in January, up from 9 percent in September. Both Moody's and S&P have a negative outlook for Vietnam's sovereign bonds. The price of its sovereign derivatives has almost doubled in the past year. Vietnam falls into the riskiest of the five tiers as rated by AM Best. In particular, the firm identifies Vietnam's financial system, plagued by "relatively poor infrastructure and cumbersome bureaucracy," as "very high" risk.
Belarus. Minsk, the capital of Belarus, was mostly destroyed during World War II and much of the city was rebuilt in the form of hulking, utilitarian, Soviet-style buildings. Belarus also retains a heavy Soviet influence in its financial system—all but one of the country's 31 banks is controlled by the state, according to AM Best. Because of Belarus's failure to reform its financial system, the firm gives the country its highest score for financial risk. Even though Belarus scores relatively well for political stability, that economic rating is enough to push it into the riskiest of the report's classifications.
Belarus's problems aren't just speculative. Although its economy is still growing, the IMF expects it will expand 1.4 percent this year, compared to 10 percent last year.The country's government has also been approved for a $2.46 billion IMF loan. But the IMF now forecasts that the country will need a further $10.7 billion in 2009. Still, other experts disagree about just how fragile Belarus's economy is. Its bonds are rated as B1 from Moody's, meaning high credit risk but also at the top of the pack of the high-risk countries.