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Friday, May 27, 2011

Rating Moody’s and S & P: A Structural Conflict of Interest

For years, banks and other issuers have paid rating agencies to rate their securities. This is a bit like restaurants paying food critics to write on their food.  In the wake of the SEC’s charge that  people at Goldman Sachs built the Abacus investment to fall apart so a hedge fund manager, John A. Paulson, could bet against it, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations questioned representatives from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s about how they rate risky securities. Carl M. Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate panel, said in a statement: “A conveyor belt of high-risk securities, backed by toxic mortgages, got AAA ratings that turned out not to be worth the paper they were printed on.” Throughout the testimony, the institutional conflict of interest was salient whereby credit-rating agencies put market-share considerations foremost in rating securities presented by the banks that are paying the agencies.

The full essay is at Institutional Conflicts of Interest, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.