Dec 17, 2011

Rating Agencies Are Probably Overdoing It

Recently there has been a veritable onslaught on core European sovereigns by the major rating agencies, with S&P warning of a major wave of downgrades in Europe 2 weeks ago, then Moody's lowering Belgium by 2 notches on Friday and finally Fitch changing France's outlook to negative. The timing of the announcements is like a rush to the exit, with no one wanting to be left behind just in case. Rating agencies were considerably behind the curve during the 2008 financial crisis. They badly mispriced the correlation of  subprime mortgages and rated "senior" tranches of CDO's triple-A. Those same tranches ended up worth close to zero. Also they infamously rated Lehman double-A up to the moment it filed for bankruptcy. The painful experience 3 years ago and the ensuing investor and regulatory backlash has left the rating agencies quite trigger-happy with the downgrade button - possibly more than justified in some individual cases.

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