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The credit ratings game
Bolton, Patrick; Freixas, Xavier; Shapiro, Joel
Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Departament d'Economia i Empresa
The collapse of so many AAA-rated structured finance products in 2007-2008has brought renewed attention to the causes of ratings failures and the conflicts of interestin the Credit Ratings Industry. We provide a model of competition among Credit RatingsAgencies (CRAs) in which there are three possible sources of conflicts: 1) the CRA conflictof interest of understating credit risk to attract more business; 2) the ability of issuersto purchase only the most favorable ratings; and 3) the trusting nature of some investorclienteles who may take ratings at face value. We show that when combined, these give riseto three fundamental equilibrium distortions. First, competition among CRAs can reducemarket efficiency, as competition facilitates ratings shopping by issuers. Second, CRAs aremore prone to inflate ratings in boom times, when there are more trusting investors, andwhen the risks of failure which could damage CRA reputation are lower. Third, the industrypractice of tranching of structured products distorts market efficiency as its role is to deceivetrusting investors. We argue that regulatory intervention requiring: i) upfront paymentsfor rating services (before CRAs propose a rating to the issuer), ii) mandatory disclosure ofany rating produced by CRAs, and iii) oversight of ratings methodology can substantiallymitigate ratings inflation and promote efficiency.
Finance and Accounting
credit rating agencies
conficts of interest
ratings shopping.
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