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Congress takes on ratings agencies

Congress

Steve Chiotakis: Executives from Moody's and Standard & Poor's today will go before the House financial services subcommittee for what's expected to be a grilling about repeated crises. Rating agencies were closely involved in the housing crisis -- and the European debt crisis. And now the U.S. debt ceiling crisis which we're going to talk about in just a moment. Marketplace's New York bureau chief Heidi Moore is with me now live from New York to discuss. Good morning, Heidi.

Heidi Moore: Good morning, Steve.

Chiotakis: So let's talk about these crises. Seems like there's a lot of them to choose from. Which one is Congress supposed to ask the agencies about today?

Moore: I know, where to start, right? Well, what we'll hear Congress asking about is what's wrong with the rating system. At the world financial crisis, we've had a number of sovereign debt crises. But, it would be a mistake to focus completely on the ratings agencies for this. They do have culpability in the mortgage crisis, but analysts will actually tell you that the ratings agencies are right on things like municipal bonds -- the ones from cities and the ones from corporations. So, what we need to focus on here is the housing crisis and mostly how ratings agencies make their decisions. I talked to Guy LeBas, he's a fixed income analyst for Janney Montgomery Scott, and here's what he said about that.

Guy LeBas: I think the ratings agencies need to provide more information on the assumption they use to establish the quality, or lack thereof, of a given bond.

Moore: Right, so basically what Congress is looking for is some insight into how these decisions are made. We want to know that they're not completely arbitrary.

Chiotakis: Alright if this is about the housing crisis, will they be asked about the U.S. role in the debt ceiling debate? Some say they've been playing politics with the threats of their downgrades, right?

Moore: Right, well, if they're playing more politics than the 536 members of Congress, that's really impressive, but actually, yes, they are going to hear about the debt ceiling debate. But it would be a mistake to blame the ratings agencies four our troubles. A lot of people say we should have been downgraded a long time ago, we're a huge credit and we're talking about being a deadbeat.

Chiotakis: Marketplace's Heidi Moore in New York. Heidi, thanks.

Moore: Thank you.

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