Why Did We Put Ratings Agencies' Ratings Into The Law?

from the good-questions... dept

Problems and potential conflicts coming from the bond ratings agencies were well-known well before our financial crisis hit, but still many are pointing the blame finger at those ratings agencies. And, it's certainly tempting to do so. Just as with the famed financial analysts during the late 90s tech boom, the credit agencies appear to have rated certain debt offerings very highly, despite recognizing how intrinsically risky the investments were. Given what happened following the dot com bubble collapse, it's quite likely that the bond rating agencies Moody's and S&P will get slapped down for their "mistakes."

But that would be a mistake. Both Moody's and S&P were merely expressing an opinion on the credit-worthiness and risk of the various debt offerings. An opinion should never be considered illegal by itself. The problem was that people started relying on these opinions as if they were factual realities. And who's to blame for that?

Well, in part, it's the government -- which wrote the rating agencies' ratings into law, requiring certain regulated institutions to maintain a certain percentage of "highly rated" bonds in order to engage in certain activities. That made it so the real focus was on the opinions of Moody's and the S&P, rather than on what investors believed the actual risk was on those bonds. As the link here notes, why not let the market decide what the actual risk is on these bonds, rather than trusting the (somewhat questionable) opinions of individuals who are biased and conflicted?
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Filed Under: ratings agencies, regulations
Companies: moody's, s&p


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  1. identicon
    http://www.extremejohn.com, 14 Jan 2009 @ 9:57am

    The rating agencies do bear culpability.

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