Articles Posted in Credit Ratings

The SEC has approved rules granting the agency more control over credit rating agencies and obligates asset-backed securities issuers to reveal additional information about underlying loans. S.E.C. Chairwoman Mary Jo White says that the reforms will give investors crucial protections while making the securities market stronger.

The rules target the activities, products, and practices that were key factors in the 2008 financial crisis. They would apply to more than $600 billion of the asset-backed securities market, over which the SEC presides. The rules, however, won’t apply to bonds guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC). Both entities are exempt from SEC rules.)Also, the new disclosure requirements won’t apply to private placements that are only sold to sophisticated investors.

Leading up to the economic crisis, Wall Street had packaged mortgages into investments that were given high ratings even though they didn’t necessary contain the highest quality subprime loans. Investors sustained huge losses when the securities plunged in value.

This week, Standard & Poor’s (“S&P”) cut the credit rating for Puerto Rico’s general obligation debt to junk-bond status due to concerns about an inability to access capital markets. S&P had put the US territory’s rating on notice for such a downgrade late last year. Now, the credit rating agency announced, it is officially issuing that downgrade to a “BB”-a level under investment grade.

The credit rating agency believes that the Caribbean island’s ability to sell additional debt in $3.7 trillion municipal bond market is limited and cash shortages could happen. Because of such “liquidity constraints,” S & P does not feel that an investment-grade rating is warranted. The agency also cut its rating on Puerto Rico’s Government Development Bank to a BB, as well.

Puerto Rico has been in peril of getting a ratings downgrade by all three US credit raters for some time now in part because of its $70 billion of tax-free debt. Responding to the junk status downgrade, Puerto Rico’s Treasury Secretary and Government Development Bank said that S & P’s decision was a disappointment but they remained “confident” that the US territory had enough liquidity to meet such needs through the fiscal year’s conclusion.

This month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit refused to revive statutory and common law MBS claims made by five Ohio pension funds: The Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the Ohio Public Employees Deferred Compensation Program, and the School Employees Retirement Systems of Ohio. All of them are run by the state for public employees.

Per the court’s opinion, between 2005 and 2008, the funds had invested hundreds of million of dollars in 308 mortgage-backed securities that all were given AAA or the equivalent from one of the three credit rating agencies. When MBS value dropped during this time, the Funds lost about $457 million.

The plaintiffs believe that the reason that they lost their money is because the ratings that were given to the MBS were false and misleading. They filed their Ohio securities lawsuit under the state’s “blue sky ” laws, as well as the common law theory of negligent misrepresentation.

Ilya Eric Kolchinsky, a former Moody’s Investors Service executive, is suing the credit ratings agency for defamation. This is one of the first lawsuits involving a Wall Street company and an ex-employer that blew the whistle on it. Kolchinsky is seeking $15 million in damages in addition to legal fees.

Kolchinsky claims that Moody’s tried to ruin his reputation after he publicly talked about problems with its ratings model. Kolchinsky, who supervised the ratings that were given to subprime mortgage collateralized debt obligations (many of these did not live up to their triple-A ratings), testified before Congressional panels about his concerns. He addressed the potential conflicts that can arise as a result of the issuer-pay ratings model, which lets banks and borrowers that sell debt securities pay for ratings. He alleged securities fraud and claimed that the ratings agency placed profits ahead of doing their job. He also claimed that Moody’s lacked the resources to enforce its rules.

Kolchinsky contends that Moody’s began attacking him through the media and that the statements that the credit ratings firm issued have caused him to become “blacklisted by the private sector financial industry.” Moody’s suspended him last year. In his civil suit, Kolchinsky notes that he was attacked by the credit ratings agency even though it went on to adopt some of his recommendations.

The recently passed financial reform bill provides greater protections for whistleblowers while offering financial rewards for those brave enough to tell regulators about their concerns. However, it is unclear whether Kolchinsky’s complaint will benefit from the new law because his case involves alleged actions that occurred prior to the bill’s passing.

Related Web Resources:
Former Moody’s Executive Files Suit, New York Times, September 13, 2010
Exec who blew whistle on Moody’s ratings sues for defamation, Central Valley Business TImes, September 14, 2010
Wall Street Whistleblowers May Be Eligible to Collect 10 – 30% of Money that the Government Recovers, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 29, 2010 Continue reading

According to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, the agency is dealing with a number of credit crisis-related issues associated with money market mutual funds, asset-backed securities, and credit ratings. She also said that the SEC is working on ABS rule proposals that would allow the interests of investors and sellers to align.

The proposals, and other measures, would seek to give investors easier access to loan level data, allow them more time to review products before they invest, create a mechanism to allow for continuous disclosure, and modify “shelf” offerings eligibility standards. Schapiro says that the proposals are meant to be preemptive and would tackle certain areas where issues similar to the ones that surfaced during the current financial crisis might arise in the future.

American and European regulators have been closely examining collateralized debt obligations, mortgage-backed securities, and other ABS because of the large parts they played during the financial collapse. The SEC is reviewing ABS regulations and ABS-related disclosures and reporting. The agency is also seeking to impose more stringent credit quality and maturity requirements for market mutual funds, as well as put into place substantial liquidity standards. Members will be voting on proposed rule amendments meant to strengthen the money market mutual funds’ framework. The SEC is in the process of taking out credit rating references in a number of its regulations and rules.

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