Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Use of Credit Ratings in Financial Regulation

Last month the Joint Forum of the Basel Committee on Bank Supervision released the results of the survey on the use of credit ratings by its member authorities in the banking, securities, and insurance sectors. The survey answered the call of the G7’s “Report of the Financial Stability Forum on Enhancing Market and Institutional Resilience” to review whether the current regulations and/or supervisory policies unintentionally give credit ratings an official seal of approval that discourages investors from performing their own due diligence. The survey’s questionnaire was designed to elicit information regarding member authorities’ use of credit ratings in legislation, regulations, and supervisory policies. The goal of the survey was not only to collect information on internal references to “credit ratings,” “credit rating agencies,” or any references to specific credit rating agencies, but also to assess whether the use of credit ratings has had an effect of implying an endorsement of such ratings and rating agencies or discouraging investors from performing their own due diligence. The Joint Forum collected 17 surveys from member authorities, representing 26 separate agencies from 12 different countries, as well as five responses describing international frameworks.

Both in the U.S. and in Europe, credit ratings are generally used for five key purposes: (1) determining capital requirements; (2) identifying or classifying assets, usually in the context of eligible investments or permissible asset concentrations; (3) providing a credible evaluation of the credit risk associated with assets purchased as part of a securitization offering or a covered bond offering; (4) determining disclosure requirements; and (5) determining prospectus eligibility.

The first regulatory reference to the ratings in the U.S. is found in 1931 in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and Federal Reserve examination rules, and was mainly based on distinction between investment grade securities, generally rated BBB/Baa and above, and securities of below-investment grade quality. Over time, regulators in the U.S. and globally have incorporated credit ratings into laws and regulations to set capital requirements for regulated entities, provide a disclosure framework, and restrict investments. Recognizing possible unintended consequences of the regulatory use of ratings, in the summer of 2008 the SEC in three separate releases proposed and sought public comments to amendments to most of the SEC’s rules that rely on security ratings with alternative requirements.

Sixty three comments were submitted in response to the SEC's call. The analysis of the responses highlights a high level of dependency of all market constituents on the CRA ratings as a common measure of creditworthiness, especially in the world of less transparent structured credit securities. The behavior of market constituents, including investors, issuers, and regulated entities has been affected by such dependence. The SEC proposal came about to address the perceived failure of the CRA to accurately indicate riskiness of structured credit securities. Still, the feedback to the SEC proposals to eliminate references to credit ratings assigned by CRAs in its rule indicates that the market participants are not ready to accept responsibilities for an independent credit risk assessment. We infer that investors, fiduciaries, and regulated entities are looking to regulators to offer a common measure of risk, accurate and free of conflict of interests. At the very minimum, the market participants expect the SEC and European regulators to assume a more important role in controlling the integrity of the credit rating process.

Please, see the fuller version of the analysis here. The paper can be downloaded from SSRN.

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