- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

GENEVA Ring up another downgrade for the increasingly battered U.S. economy.

Just a month after credit agency Standard & Poor’s cut the country’s AAA borrowing status, the U.S. also lost ground in a widely followed ranking of the world’s most competitive economies, landing at fifth place because of its huge deficits and declining public faith in government, a global economic group said Wednesday.

The announcement by the World Economic Forum was the latest bad news for the Obama administration, which has been struggling to kick-start growth at home and lower an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent.

Switzerland held onto the top spot for the third consecutive year in the annual ranking by the Geneva-based forum, which is best known for its exclusive meeting of luminaries in Davos, Switzerland, each January.

Singapore moved up to second place, bumping Sweden down to third. Finland moved up to fourth place, from seventh last year. The U.S. was in fourth place last year, after falling from No. 1 in 2008.

The rankings, which the forum has issued for more than three decades, are based on economic data and a survey of 15,000 business executives.

The forum praised the U.S. for its productivity, highly sophisticated and innovative companies, excellent universities and flexible labor market. But it also cited “a number of escalating weaknesses” such as rising government debt and declining public faith in political leaders and corporate ethics.

The results of a survey of 142 nations comes a day before President Obama is preparing to tackle jobs issues in a speech to Congress, and just as U.S. polls show a clear majority of those surveyed say they disapprove of the way Mr. Obama is handling the economy.

Switzerland held onto its top ranking, the forum said, because of “continuing strong performance across the board” with innovation, technological readiness, even-handed regulation and having one of the world’s most stable economic environments.

Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, was sixth, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark. Japan came in ninth, and Britain was 10th. France was 18th, and Greece, saddled with debt, fell from 83rd to 90th.

While the U.S. slipped, emerging markets gained traction. China took 26th place, highest among major emerging economies. Brazil was 53rd, India was 56th and Russia was 66th.

“Fiscal imbalances that have been building up around the world are really a danger to future competitiveness, in terms of the ability of countries to invest in those things that will be very important for competitiveness going forward, things like education, infrastructure and so on,” said Jennifer Blanke, an economist with the forum.