dailyreckoning.com / By Douglas French / February 6, 2013
“Paybacks are a bitch,” as they say.
What was Standard & Poor’s thinking back in August 2011, when the ratings agency took the Red, White, and Blue’s AAA rating away? A rating the most powerful government in the history of the world had held for 70 years. S&P downgraded long-term US debt to AA-plus. That score ranks lower than over a dozen governments, including Liechtenstein’s, and is level with Guernsey’s and France’s.
McGraw-Hill Companies (S&P’s owner) may be a big corporation, but you don’t kick sand in Uncle Sam’s face like that and get away with it. Now the government, in the person of Attorney General Eric Holder, is kicking back. The US government is accusing the ratings agency of committing fraud by inflating the ratings of mortgage investments, which, of course, created the financial crisis.
S&P, along with its competitors Fitch and Moody’s, famously rated the mortgage security goulash that Wall Street concocted AAA, thus allowing everyone everywhere to participate in America’s housing boom. And why not? According to computer models, housing prices never go down. Pension funds as far away as Reykjavik and Heerlan were gobbling up what Wall Street was serving because all three ratings agencies provided their stamp of approval.
According to the government’s suit, S&P “knowingly and with the intent to defraud, devised, participated in, and executed a scheme to defraud investors.”
Yep, in the minds of the government’s gumshoes, the clairvoyants at S&P knew these securities stunk to high heaven. They knew, or should have known, that the housing market was ready to crash any moment, but they were greedy capitalists who, while they were making a buck, created and carried out a diabolical plan to bring the financial world to its knees.
Yeah sure, that’s what happened. S&P should be ashamed for maintaining that it ratings “were objective, independent, uninfluenced by any conflicts of interest,” the suit said.