-- The credit ratings for France have not been downgraded by Standard & Poor's, the company said Thursday, clarifying what it says was an accidental transmission of a message to some subscribers that it had downgraded the nation's credit.
In a statement, S&P says a technical error caused the automatic dissemination of a message to some subscribers of its Global Credit Portal "suggesting that France's credit rating had been changed."
S&P says that is not the case and France's ratings remain at "AAA," the highest investment-grade rating, with a "Stable" outlook.
The release was sent to some S&P Ratings subscribers under the headline, "DOWNGRADE," and a link to the France ratings. Anyone who would have clicked on the link would have seen that France's rating was unchanged, said S&P spokesman Martin Winn in London.
The original notice was sent at around 9:57 a.m. Eastern time, and a new release acknowledging the error and affirming France's credit rating was sent out at 11:30 a.m.
French Finance Minister Francois Baroin said in a statement that he has asked the European and French market regulators to investigate the error.
The French regulator AMF confirmed an investigation has been opened and it has contacted the European Securities and Markets Authority.
S&P said it also is investigating.
A downgrade of France's credit rating would likely be a hard hit to investors, who have shown little patience with the economic instability in Europe.
Traders have been concerned in recent days that debt troubles in Italy and Greece could spread to the U.S. and lead to a global crisis.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 389 points Wednesday after Italy's borrowing rates soared to a dangerous level and talks in Greece on naming a new prime minister broke down.
Worries eased on Thursday after Italy sold debt at more favorable rates than analysts expected and there were also signs of progress in Greece.
The Dow rose 130 points, or 1 percent, in afternoon trading.
In October S&P cut Spain's long-term rating to "AA-" from "AA" with a negative outlook. Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings have also downgraded the nation's credit.
In September, S&P cut Italy's long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings, as has Moody's and Fitch.
S&P analysts cited weakening economic growth for Italy and higher-than-expected levels of government debt. Moody's also has downgraded Spain.
___AP Business Writer Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris contributed to this article.