Wednesday, 12 March 2008

S&P and Moody's continue ratings scam

An interesting article by naked capitalism on the ratings sham that Moodys and S&P continue to perpetrate.

Moody's and S&P Avoid Cutting Ratings on AAA Subprime

Even after downgrading almost 10,000 subprime-mortgage bonds, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service haven't cut the ones that matter most: AAA securities that are the mainstays of bank and insurance company investments.

None of the 80 AAA securities in ABX indexes that track subprime bonds meet the criteria S&P had even before it toughened ratings standards in February, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A bond sold by Deutsche Bank AG in May 2006 is AAA at both companies even though 43 percent of the underlying mortgages are delinquent.

Sticking to the rules would strip at least $120 billion in bonds of their AAA status, extending the pain of a mortgage crisis that's triggered $188 billion in writedowns for the world's largest financial firms. AAA debt fell as low as 61 cents on the dollar after record home foreclosures and a decline to AA may push the value of the debt to 26 cents, according to Credit Suisse Group.

``The fact that they've kept those ratings where they are is laughable,'' said Kyle Bass, chief executive officer of Hayman Capital Partners, a Dallas-based hedge fund that made $500 million last year betting lower-rated subprime-mortgage bonds would decline in value. ``Downgrades of AAA and AA bonds are imminent, and they're going to be significant.''

Bass estimates most of AAA subprime bonds in the ABX indexes will be cut by an average of six or seven levels within six weeks.

The 20 ABX indexes are the only public source of prices on debt tied to home loans that were made to subprime borrowers with poor credit histories. About $650 billion of subprime bonds are still outstanding, according to Deutsche Bank. About 75 percent were rated AAA at issuance.....

S&P and Moody's, the two biggest rating companies, are lagging behind Fitch Ratings, their smaller competitor....

The ratings methods balance estimated losses against so-called credit support, a measure of how likely it is that owners of each piece of the bond will incur losses. For AAA rated debt, credit support needs to be five times the expected losses, according to Sylvain Raynes, author of The Analysis of Structured Securities, a college textbook.

All but six of the 80 AAA ABX bonds failed an S&P test for investment-grade status, which requires credit support to be twice the percentage of troubled collateral. The guideline was one of four tests used by S&P, and a failure to meet the standard wouldn't have automatically resulted in a downgrade. The other companies used similar metrics to grade bonds, Raynes
said. Investment grade refers to all bonds rated above BBB- by S&P and Baa3 by Moody's....

On a $118 million Washington Mutual bond issued in 2007, WMHE 2007-HE2 2A4, 5.6 percent of its loans are in foreclosure
and its safety margin, or the debt available to absorb losses, is less than the combined total of its loans at risk. Both S&P
and Moody's rate it AAA.

Fitch rates that bond B, five levels below investment grade and 15 levels less than its rivals....

The problem extends past the mortgage bonds. Financial firms own high-grade collateralized debt obligations, which package securities such as mortgage bonds and slice them into pieces with varying risk. As the underlying mortgage bonds are downgraded, those securities will also lose their ratings and tumble in value.

A bank would have to increase its capital against $100 million of bonds to $16 million from $1.6 million if a bond was downgraded to below investment grade from AAA, under global accounting rules.....

Bond insurers such as MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. also have to hold more capital against insurance they write
if the securities' credit quality declines.

The prospect of losses may be holding the ratings companies back, said Frank Partnoy, a University of San Diego law professor and former Morgan Stanley banker who has been writing about the impact of credit ratings companies since 1997.

``If the 800-pound gorilla moves, it's going to crush someone, so it's not going to want to move,'' Partnoy said. ``They know they will trigger a price collapse. They are understandably reluctant.''

We see it time and time again, this attempt to prolong the pain that will inevitably come, the Fed, the ratings agencies and the financial institutions are all trying to suspend reality and hope things get back to normal. The problem is, what was normal 6 months ago was never normal to begin with.