Financial rating agency Moody's Investors Service yesterday raised the ceiling for foreign currency debt ratings on financial institutions in several Asian economies, including Hong Kong, in the belief their governments would give the private sector access to foreign currency in the event of a debt crisis. This raised the rating of some foreign-currency debt issued by ANZ National (International) HK, the Hong Kong Mortgage Corp and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp as well as financial institutions in other Asian countries. While Moody's had in the past raised some bank debt ratings beyond the ceiling under special circumstances, it said yesterday's move reflected a broad change in the way that governments reacted to a foreign currency crisis. It means that Moody's expects the private sector in the affected countries to be ahead of the government in accessing foreign currency supplies during a currency crisis and that some private sector debt could be rated higher than the sovereign debt of the countries in which the companies are based. 'It's positive [for private sector securities] because it reduces the chances that you as an investor or someone lending money in a foreign currency will be caught in a foreign currency crisis,' said Deborah Schuler, regional credit officer for Moody's. Standard & Poor's began introducing a similar change in rating ceilings late last year. Moody's raised the ratings ceiling in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Macau, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam as well as in many non-Asian countries. Ms Schuler said that in the 1980s, when countries faced a currency crisis, the governments tended to put a freeze on all foreign currency debt repayments by firms by trying to ration currency supplies. Since the 1990s, Moody's has seen a new trend where governments make foreign currency supplies available to the private sector during a crisis even while they may put a freeze on repayment of sovereign debt as terms are restructured. While Moody's may still 'pierce' the ratings ceiling for individual firms in the future, it expects to do so less than in the past. 'Only if the particular firm is solid and if we felt that if the country were to use a moratorium that this company might get special treatment,' Ms Schuler said.