I would have thought that the credit rating agencies would be at least one group that everyone could agree to throw under the bus. We know that the powerful chieftains of Wall Street are trying to pin the credit crisis on rating agencies – see page 3 of JPMorgan’s blame-shifting attempt, for example. Yet the new Financial Regulatory Reform plan has almost nothing on the subject. Apparently the rating agencies, too, are Too Big to Fail.
Reuters catalogs the provisions relating to the rating agencies. Here’s the summary:
The plan urges Moody’s Corp’s Moody’s Investors Service, McGraw-Hill Cos Inc’ Standard & Poor’s and Fimalac SA’s Fitch Ratings and others to bolster the integrity of their ratings, especially in structured finance.
It also calls for reduced conflicts of interest and for regulators worldwide to tighten oversight.
But the blueprint does nothing to address what critics call the industry’s key shortcoming: That the biggest agencies are paid by issuers whose securities they rate, creating an incentive to win more business by assigning high ratings. . . .
“The overall impact of existing and proposed regulatory changes on rating agencies is extraordinarily easy to summarize: They reward abject failure,” said Jonathan Macey, deputy dean of Yale Law School.
Also see the Huffington Post, which has this understated but damning criticism: “Today, the agencies welcome the government proposals, saying that they favored improved ratings quality and transparency.”
Perhaps this is one area where Congress can improve on the administration’s plan.
The plan says very little of substance about reforming the rating agencies, whose willingness to give a seal of approval to dubious securities played an important role in creating the mess we’re in.
By James Kwak