Rating Agencies, Warren Buffett and Corruption
Today’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearing on credit rating agencies promises to shed quite a bit of light on one of the most profitable and corrupt businesses in Corporate America. Rating agencies score huge profits regardless of how accurate their ratings prove, and thus never felt any serious pain from the financial crisis, despite the central role rating agencies played in the collapse.
The basic model for rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings is a conflict of interest. These companies rate securities– if a bank wants to package a bunch of mortgages into a security to sell to investors, the rating agencies stamp a rating on that security to indicate how safe the investment is. But Moody’s et al do not get paid by the investors who use their ratings. Instead, they get paid by the banks that create and package the securities. That creates a clear incentive to inflate ratings in order to win more business from banks.