Monday, August 02, 2010

Heavy liability for the ratings agencies, but it's not a free-market solution as some might think

You may have read that once the new financial "reform" law went into effect, the three major ratings agencies stopped permitting their ratings to be used for new issues. This was completely expected because the three now bear tremendous liability for the "quality" of their ratings (i.e. accuracy).

Normally it's a free market where the ratings agencies aren't protected by the government. The three should absolutely face consequences for giving higher ratings than they know aren't warranted. For example, Mark Froeba testified before Congress about a radical shift in Moody's very culture:
When I joined Moody's in late 1997, an analyst's worst fear was that he would contribute to the assignment of a rating that was wrong, damage Moody's reputation for getting the answer right and lose his job as a result.

When I left Moody's, an analyst's worst fear was that he would do something that would allow him to be singled out for jeopardizing Moody's market share, for impairing Moody's revenue or for damaging Moody's relationships with its clients and lose his job as a result.
But the new "reform" is the feds making the ratings agencies liable for more than they'd have been in a free market. There's no room for mistake now: an honest error bears the same sanctions as fraud. It's like making an auto manufacturer liable for speeding tickets, because after all, they made a car that could travel faster than the law permits. Why should we be surprised that the agencies suddenly balked? The SEC gave them a six-month reprieve, but what will happen after that?

Obama's "reforms" have had the single agenda of driving the private sector out of this or that, which will eventually necessitate the feds stepping in "because the private sector isn't providing what people need." Eventually we'll see insurance premium caps instituted ostensibly to keep costs under control, and when insurers drop their sickliest customers, Obama will claim that the public option is "necessary." Similarly, this "financial reform" will hardly stop at the bureaucracy to "protect" consumers. The road has been paved for a federal agency to give ratings after the ratings agencies have been driven out of business -- and naturally this new body will have governmental immunity.

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