Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sticking it to investors: SEC does not want to hold Credit Rating agencies accountable for their ratings

So what does a regulator do went they find out that the credit ratings applied to money market accounts are basically meaningless? Do they:

A) Get tough with the credit rating agencies and demand that they properly evaluate and grade interest bearing instruments.

B) Open the credit rating market up to new companies, hoping that the competition fosters an improvement in credit ratings.

C) Propose reducing reliance on credit ratings, including proposing to eliminate a requirement that money market funds hold highly-rated securities.

If you selected C then congratulations - you are a winner. The SEC is moving forward with a policy of weaning investors and Wall Street institutions from over-reliance on credit ratings, instead of fixing the credit rating firms. While the proposal does require that fund managers assess a security's liquidity and inform investors, we have seen quickly a formerly-liquid credit market can lock up. The major focus is to deemphasize credit rating agencies and effectively get them off-the-hook for the terrible job they have done in terms of properly rating securities. There is no need for the agencies to reform their processes.

Worst yet, investors are now basically being told that they are on their own when if comes to evaluating the safety of money market funds and interest-bearing funds. This is setting the table for a future crisis. At some point in the future there will be a large number of grandmothers spread across the nation who will be quite unhappy with this change in regulatory mindset.

SEC proposes reduced reliance on credit raters