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KAI RYSSDAL: To continue with a theme here — that is, fixing what was and is broken on Wall Street — the credit rating agencies are back in the news. Yesterday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown subpoenaed the big three raters. That would be Moody’s, Standard & Poors and Fitch. He wants to see if they broke state laws with their Triple-A ratings of B-Grade mortgage-backed securities.
Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission has passed a bunch of new rules itself. The SEC wants more control over how the credit agencies rate. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth reports.
Alisa Roth: One new rule will force the credit rating agencies to show how their ratings for a company or a deal have changed over time.
Sylvain Raynes is a principal with R&R Consulting, which values structured security deals. He says if the agencies don’t change their ratings often, it’ll be a sign something funny is happening.
Sylvain Raynes: If you see the ratings are not moving at all and yet you, by looking at this data, you can see trouble, you can know that the rating agencies are not doing their job.
Ratings agencies already sell this data to subscribers. The SEC’s plan would make them give it away for free. Another rule will make companies that use rating agencies share all their information with everybody.
Jerome Fons is a consultant on credit rating issues. He says under the new plan, any agency will be able to offer a rating, whether they’ve been hired by the company or not.
Jerome Fons: So no matter what the final rating was by rating agency X, agency Y could come out and say, well, you know based on our analysis, this really isn’t a triple A.
That plays into another recommendation by the SEC. That companies have to disclose when they’ve been shopping for the best rating.
Fons: Then it also makes it easier for investors and others to see whether or not the ratings themselves have been corrupted, because you’ll be able to see, “Oh do they adhere to the methodology or do they not?”
SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro says the new rules are designed to expose conflicts of interest and protect investors who rely on ratings to buy securities. But Fons argues not enough has changed and the ratings agencies still have too much power.
In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.
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