SEC checks credit rating agencies

Seal of the US Securities and Exchange Commission


Scott Jagow: Wall Street's getting punished several different ways for the job losses. The collapse of entire institutions like Bear Stearns. And now, regulation. Today, the Securities Exchange Commission is expected to announce a new proposal on credit rating agencies. Standard and Poor's, Moody's, Fitch. They gave triple-A ratings to a lot of garbage. Marketplace's Amy Scott reports.

Amy Scott: Money market mutual funds invest billions of dollars in bonds. SEC rules say most of the bonds have to be highly-rated by credit rating agencies.

The rules are meant to protect investors. But when the mortgage market turned last year, many of the bonds the agencies called the cream of the crop turned out to be the bottom of the barrel.

Earlier this month, SEC chairman Christopher Cox acknowledged criticisms that:

Christopher Cox: Our own rules may be contributing to an uncritical reliance on credit ratings as a substitute for an independent evaluation.

Today, the Commission will propose reforms to make fund managers do more of their own research.

Peter Crane with Crane Data tracks money market funds. He doubts fund managers could've predicted the market collapse any better than the ratings agencies did.

Peter Crane: Had they done their own due diligence, it wouldn't have mattered. These events were something that could not have been foreseen by anyone.

The SEC also wants to change the way the ratings agencies do business. It's weighing rules to crack down on conflicts of interest and improve transparency.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.


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