Friday, 22 August 2008

Keys not judgements

What were the ratings agencies doing really? Frank Portnoy writing in the FT, tells it like it is:
the rating business has shifted from providing information to selling “regulatory licences”, keys that unlock financial markets. Consider Constant Proportion Debt Obligations, the financial Frankensteins that the agencies’ flawed mathematical models said were low-risk. Does anyone believe parties paid for triple A ratings of such instruments because those ratings gave them valuable information? More likely, ratings were valuable because they permitted investors to buy something triple A-rated that paid 20 times the spread of other triple A-rated instruments.
In other words ratings can only really be objective when they are not used for anything. The SEC has already removed reliance on ratings from many of its rules, but I am not holding my breath waiting for Basel to do the same. However sensible an idea it might be, I doubt regulators are willing to admit how ill-conceived the Basel credit risk rules really are.

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