The Abysmal Track Records of Moody's, Fitch and S&P

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 | 06:30 AM


“How could the credit-rating agencies be so wrong consistently? [They were] wrong on Mexico, wrong on Asia, wrong on Enron, wrong on subprime. . . . ”
-Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D–New York)


“Most people don’t really know how the bond raters compete in the structured-finance area. “[At my agency], we tried to do our best, but we also understood the conflicts. We all assumed that if we pounded the table too much we’d be left out of the deal.” 
-A former employee at a Big Three rating agency

Freddie Mac's (FRE) troubles are front page news today (WSJ: Mortgage Giant Fuels Worries With Steep Loss). Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has figured out that the Housing slow down isn't bottoming anytime soon, and that 2008 will be worse than 2007.

But the most interesting read of this morbid tale comes from the lesser known publication Trader Monthly (website: Well known muckraker (and CNBC on air editor) Charlie Gasparino (his most recent book, “King of the Club", covers the rise and fall of Dick Grasso) gives the full monty to the Big 3.

Hidden behind a free registration firewall, Berating the Raters pulls no punches. Gasparino calls the rating agencies track record "ABYSMAL."  He explains what he describes as their "hopelessly conflicted business model." He challenges readers to consider the track record of "what they get paid to do — weighing the risks for investors and traders who buy bonds."

Most of all, he notes simply: The rating agencies significantly contributed to the subprime crisis that caused the credit crunch this past summer and that may sink the economy into recession.

(How's that for a well crafted and powerful sentence?)

Here's a potent excerpt:

"The bond raters make money through one of the most flawed and conflicted business models in corporate America. The bond raters are supposed to be working for investors (hence the name Moody’s Investors Service, for example) by assigning letter grades to a bond’s ability to make principal and interest payments. The reality is much different. In rating-world lexicon, AAA means that barring nuclear war, the bonds are good. D means they’re either nearing or in default.

This conflict has posed huge problems. Municipalities have canceled contracts with rating agencies that took a negative view, and hired those who were easier graders. All that saber-rattling had an impact. I can remember how former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman attacked a particularly tough rater at Standard & Poor’s, who subsequently withdrew from the team that gave the green light to some suspect financing by the state.

Such conflicts were at the heart of the rating agencies that missed Enron and a passel of other financial catastrophes. Kenneth Lay, after all, was a valuable client.

With a strong economy and a booming housing market, no one seemed to think twice about the fact that the rating agencies were beginning to make big bucks in the subprime loan market, where their conflicted business model posed a broader problem to the housing market and the entire economy. Over the past decade, packaging subprime loans into sellable securities has been a huge business for Wall Street. Raters who were the easiest graders of the pools of subprime loans — those that demanded the least equity to back up all those CDOs being sold in recent years — got the business. Those who didn’t got left out.

It’s hard to believe a bunch of geeks in New York working at places like S&P, Moody’s and Fitch have so much power, but they do. It’s the dirty little secret of Wall Street . . ."

I cannot steal excerpt the entire piece, but the rest of the article details why the agencies should be getting nervous about now:

There's a new sheriff in town.

Gasparino details the discovery of these issues by the most recently appointed SEC Chair -- former Congressman Cox from default scarred Orange County, California. He is now aggressively pursuing supervising the 3 agencies, with new regulatory powers recently enacted by Congress. (Although its questionable if legislation was even necessary to allow the SEC to regulate rating agencies).

Regardless, its a ripping good read -- well worth the headache of free registration.



Berating the Raters
Charles Gasparino
Trader Daily, December 2007

Mortgage Giant Fuels Worries With Steep Loss
WSJ, November 21, 2007; Page A1

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 | 06:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack (1) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Abysmal Track Records of Moody's, Fitch and S&P:

» David Einhorn on Credit Agencies from The Big Picture
Apropos of our last post, a dozen of you (1st in: Scott Frew of Rockingham Partners) directed our attention to David Einhorn's presentation at the Annual Graham Dodd Breakfast. The PDF text of the full presentation is at Naked Shorts . . . [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 21, 2007 10:28:45 AM


Wait till the insurers go belly up, and that sets off new waves of downgrades, and write downs.
When people say that these are just "accounting anomalies", and it has actual value. No sane European or Asian investor will touch them.

"Down the rabbit hole" this gets scary.

Just my wacky Crystal ball.

Then the fed will be forced to cut... Forced.

On that note...

Happy Turkey day!!!

Posted by: Eric Davis | Nov 21, 2007 7:10:48 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

Recent Posts

December 2008
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


Complete Archives List



Category Cloud

On the Nightstand

On the Nightstand

 Subscribe in a reader

Get The Big Picture!
Enter your email address:

Read our privacy policy

Essays & Effluvia

The Apprenticed Investor

Apprenticed Investor

About Me

About Me
email me

Favorite Posts

Tools and Feeds

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to The Big Picture

Powered by FeedBurner

Add to Technorati Favorites


My Wishlist

Worth Perusing

Worth Perusing

mp3s Spinning

MP3s Spinning

My Photo



Odds & Ends

Site by Moxie Design Studios™