MONTREAL -- Even if the COVID-19 pandemic causes Quebec to go back to running deficit, this should not shake its credit rating in the short term, said one of the main credit rating agencies.

In a note published Friday, Moody's did not touch the rating of the province - which is Aa2 (stable) - stressing that the diversification of its economy, as well as tools like the province's Generations Fund, should allow Quebec to recover from the crisis.

On the other hand, a loss of "fiscal discipline" that would lead to large successive deficits could result in a downgrade, warned the New York agency.

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard has already suggested that there could be a shortfall of between $12 billion and $15 billion at the end of the 2020-2021 fiscal year due to the economic storm triggered by the pandemic.

Moody's is instead counting on a red ink budget of $9.8 billion, or 8.8 per cent of the province's revenues, a level that remains higher than the deficits recorded following the 2008 financial crisis. For 2021- 2022, the agency expects a hole of $3 billion.

Premier François Legault said at a press conference Thursday that the province will run deficits that will swell its debt, adding that it would take "a number of years" before returning to a context similar to the one before the pandemic.

This week, the Institut de la statistique du Québec reported that its first estimates suggested that the province's gross domestic product fell 10 per cent in March. For the year, Moody's anticipates a contraction of 6.1 per cent of real GDP - adjusted for inflation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2020.