Rating firm DBRS won't rush to conclusions on Spain

The credit rating firm DBRS is in no rush to change its Spanish rating despite the country's worsening economy because stabilization measures such as the European Central Bank's new bond-buying program could start at any point.

DBRS is one of four firms the ECB uses to rate collateral, but following serial downgrades from S&P, Fitch and Moody's, is the only one saving Spanish bonds from an extra 5 percent charge the ECB automatically applies to sub A-rated sovereign bonds used as collateral in its lending operations.

Markets' eyes are currently trained on Moody's to see whether it strips Spain of its investment grade status as Madrid struggles with cash-strapped regions, an ailing bank system and rising debt refinancing costs.

It delayed the decision on Tuesday to give itself until the end of the month, but some analysts believe a downgrade from Baa3 could help push Madrid to take EU aid.

Despite that focus, a DBRS downgrade would do more real damage because unless they could find alternative assets, it would cut the amount of ECB money Spanish banks would be able to borrow.

Madrid may be able to relax a little though. Fergus McCormick, head of sovereign ratings for DBRS, said the fact European help was waiting in the wings would spare Spain from any knee-jerk rating changes.

"In the context of a weak economic environment, an unclear policy response from Europe, and popular discontent in Spain, the higher deficits are worrying and place further downward pressure on our A (low) rating, which has a Negative trend," McCormick told Reuters.

"And yet, we are not going to jump to conclusions. Why? Because the backstop could come into play and stabilize bond markets, providing Spain time to reduce its deficit more gradually and implement tough structural reforms."

He added there were a lot of unanswered questions on whether the euro zone's bailout funds will, as previously indicated, help to recapitalize Spain's banks, and also on how the ECB will deploy its new bond-buying program.

"We have no doubt that Europe has the ammunition to stabilize the situation. Whether it will use it remains to be seen," McCormick said in e-mailed comments.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; editing by Stephen Nisbet)