It’s reassuringly technocratic, the language of ratings. The institutional assessment is a "neutral" but the fiscal and economic assessments are a "weakness", says the S&P Global Ratings scorecard on SA, while on the Moody’s scorecard the economic and fiscal strength factors are at moderate (plus), and so too, now, is the institutional strength factor. But it’s that institutional factor that prompted Moody’s decision to downgrade SA’s credit rating to just one notch above junk on Friday, after it put SA on review for a downgrade following the "night of the long knives" cabinet reshuffle in March. At that time, Moody’s rated SA’s institutional strength as high (minus). Now, this is the one ratings factor that it has cut. And behind that one-notch shift from high minus to moderate plus is a story of how the ratings agency that has tended to be the most optimistic of the three major agencies, and the most measured in its approach, is gradually coming to the conclusion that it can no lo...

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