S&P lawsuit: Emails suggest concern about ratings

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 5, 2013 at 6:26 pm •  Published: February 5, 2013
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The government's case against Standard & Poor's points to documents that authorities say support their accusations — namely, that S&P intentionally gave high marks to risky mortgage investments that eventually collapsed and helped trigger the financial crisis.

S&P disputes the allegations. It says the emails have been taken out of context and don't prove any wrongdoing.

Here are some examples of the government's evidence:

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— In April 2004, S&P executives circulated a draft proposal for changing the way it rates investments. The new rating system would consider the potential investor reaction — "market insight," in financial parlance. Under this proposed system, S&P's analysts would survey bankers who planned to issue the security and investors who might buy it.

One S&P executive protested in an email: "What do you mean by 'market insight' with regard to a proposed criteria change? What does 'rating implication' have to do with the search for truth? Are you implying that we might actually reject or stifle 'superior analytics' for market considerations? ... Does this mean we are to review our proposed criteria changes with investors, issuers and investment bankers? ... (W)e NEVER poll them as to content or acceptability!"

The executive's concerns were ignored, the government said. The S&P contends that under "certain recent regulations," it's required to discuss proposed ratings criteria with market participants.

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— A July 2004 memo told employees that any "concerns with the objectivity, integrity, or validity" of the ratings process should be expressed in person, not in writing. "If it is not practical to speak with the person, only then should these concerns be expressed in an email or written memorandum."

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— In August 2004, one executive expressed concern that S&P would lose business to competitors like Moody's and Fitch unless it gave more favorable ratings to investments. "We are meeting with your group this week to discuss adjusting criteria for rating CDOs (a type of investment) of real estate assets this week because of the ongoing threat of losing deals."

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— The lawsuit says S&P considered tightening its criteria for rating some investments, then balked after banks like Bear Stearns protested. The government says S&P was more concerned with generating revenue than with producing accurate ratings.

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