In response to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) in July 2010. Among its various provisions, Dodd-Frank outlines a series of broad reforms to the Credit Rating Agencies (CRA) market. Many observers believe that CRAs’ inflated ratings of structured finance products were partly to blame for the rapid growth and subsequent collapse of the shadow banking system. In response, Dodd-Frank’s CRA provisions significantly increase CRAs’ liability for issuing inaccurate ratings, and make it easier for the SEC to impose sanctions and bring claims against CRAs for material misstatements and fraud.
Posts Tagged ‘Ratings agencies’
Today [August 27, 2014] the Commission takes an important step to protect investors and promote capital formation, by enhancing the transparency of asset-backed securities (“ABS”) and by increasing the accountability of issuers of these securities. The securitization market is critical to our economy and can provide liquidity to nearly all the major economic sectors, including the automobile industry, the consumer credit industry, the leasing industry, and the commercial lending and credit markets.
Given the importance of this market, let’s also remember why we are here and the magnitude of the crisis in the ABS market. At the end of 2007, the ABS market consisted of more than $7 trillion of mortgage-backed securities and nearly $2.5 trillion of other outstanding ABS. However, by the fall of 2008, the securitization market had completely seized up. For example, in 2006 and 2007, new issuances of private-label residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) totaled $686 billion and $507 billion, respectively. In 2008, private-label RMBS issuance dropped to $9 billion, and flat-lined in 2009.
The Commission will today [August 27, 2014] consider recommendations of the staff for adopting two very important final rules in different, but closely related, areas—asset-backed securities and credit rating agencies.
The reforms before us today will add critical protections for investors and strengthen our securities markets by targeting products, activities and practices that were at the center of the financial crisis. With these measures, investors will have powerful new tools for independently evaluating the quality of asset-backed securities and credit ratings. And ABS issuers and rating agencies will be held accountable under significant new rules governing their activities. These reforms will make a real difference to investors and to our financial markets.
We will first consider the recommendation related to asset-backed securities, and then we will consider the rules relating to credit rating agencies.
In our recent ECGI working paper, A Strict Liability Regime for Rating Agencies, we study how to induce Credit Rating Agencies (CRAs) to produce ratings as accurate as the available forecasting technology allows.
Referring to CRAs, Paul Krugman wrote that: “It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt […] could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favorable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job.”
However, the conflicts of interest stemming from the issuer-pays model and rating shopping by issuers are not sufficient to explain rating inflation. Because ratings are valuable only as far as they are considered informative by investors, in a well-functioning market, reputational sanctions should prevent rating inflation.
Rule 17g-5(c)(1) (the “Rule”) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 addresses nationally recognized statistical rating organization (“NRSRO”) conflict of interest concerns by prohibiting an NRSRO from issuing a credit rating where the person soliciting the rating was the source of 10% or more of the total net revenue of the NRSRO during the most recently ended fiscal year.  As noted by the Commission, this prohibition is necessary because such a person “will be in a position to exercise substantial influence on the NRSRO” and, as a result, “it will be difficult for the NRSRO to remain impartial, given the impact on the NRSRO’s income if the person withdrew its business.”  The Commission also recognized that the intent of the prohibition “is not to prohibit a business practice that is a normal part of an NRSRO’s activities,” and that the Commission may evaluate whether exemptive relief would be appropriate. 
In our paper, The Economics of Solicited and Unsolicited Credit Ratings, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we develop a dynamic rational expectations model to address the question of why rating agencies issue unsolicited credit ratings and why these ratings are, on average, lower than solicited ratings. We analyze the implications of this practice for credit rating standards, rating fees, and social welfare. Our model incorporates three critical elements of the credit rating industry: (i) the rating agencies’ ability to misreport the issuer’s credit quality, (ii) their ability to issue unsolicited ratings, and (iii) their reputational concerns.
I strongly support the Commission’s effort to evaluate ways to improve our credit ratings system. Effective oversight of Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (“NRSROs”) is critical to ensuring accurate ratings and promoting investor confidence.
As an SEC Commissioner, I have focused singularly on how the SEC can best serve the needs of investors. It is clear that the role played by credit rating agencies can have an impact on the integrity of our markets and investor confidence. 
Today’s roundtable and the Commission’s December 2012 Report to Congress on Assigned Credit Ratings are direct outgrowths of industry practices that permitted inaccurate ratings to undermine the securities market and the integrity of the credit ratings industry. 
Triggered by the recent financial crisis, the regulation of banks has gained new traction among academics, regulators, and politicians. One of the key challenges in effective regulation is time inconsistency of regulation. While a regulator would like to commit not to bail out banks in order to set the right ex-ante incentives, this threat is generally not credible since the government does not follow through in the event of a crisis. Banks therefore have an incentive to expose themselves to risk that is partially insured by the government.
To mitigate this problem, regulators attempt to reduce the likelihood of banking crises by regulating both banks’ asset side and liability side. While there has been a recent push to focus on the liability side by mandating higher equity capital requirements, the very nature of a deposit-taking institution implies that leverage is an integral part of the business model of banks, unlike for other firms. In this paper, we therefore focus on the regulation of banks’ asset holdings. The starting point of our paper is the natural assumption that a regulator cannot directly observe the riskiness of assets, but needs to rely on an external (private) assessment of risk. Since the introduction of the Basel I framework, credit ratings have played an important role in bank regulation as “objective” measures of credit risk. This role has been confirmed in the Basel III (2011) guidelines, which still rely on credit ratings as measures of creditworthiness.
The Federal banking agencies have recently issued three notices of proposed rulemaking (and applicable related guidance) in connection with the implementation of Section 939A of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”). Section 939A generally requires that all Federal agencies remove from their regulations references to and requirements of reliance on credit ratings and replace them with appropriate alternatives for evaluating creditworthiness.
Market Risk Capital NPR:
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the “OCC”), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC” and, together with the Federal Reserve and the OCC, the “agencies”) issued a joint notice of proposed rulemaking (the “Market Risk Capital NPR”) concerning their market risk capital rules applicable to certain U.S. banking organizations with significant trading operations by proposing standards of creditworthiness to be used in place of credit ratings when calculating the specific risk capital requirements for covered debt and securitization positions, including the following:
In our paper, Does It Matter Who Pays for Bond Ratings? Historical Evidence, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we examine whether charging issuers for bond ratings is associated with higher credit ratings employing the historical setting wherein S&P switched from an investor-pay to an issuer-pay model in 1974, four years after Moody’s made the same switch.
Many commentators and policy makers claim that charging bond issuers for ratings introduces conflicts of interest into the rating process. For corporate bonds issued between 1971 and 1978, we find that, for the same bond, Moody’s rating is higher than S&P’s rating prior to 1974 when only Moody’s charges issuers. After S&P adopts the issuer-pay model in July 1974, the evidence indicates that S&P’s ratings increase to the extent that they no longer differ from Moody’s ratings. Because we use Moody’s ratings for the same bond as our benchmark, we can conclude that this increase in S&P’s ratings is not due to general changes affecting bond ratings.