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SEC meets to discuss oversight of credit ratings agencies

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The Securities and Exchange Commission meets Wednesday to discuss whether additional rules should be deployed under Dodd-Frank to ensure credit ratings agencies are monitored appropriately to maintain investor confidence. Under Section 9, Subtitle C of Dodd-Frank, lawmakers have already highlighted the "systemic importance of credit ratings," saying firms, including Standard & Poor's, Fitch Ratings and Moody's  Investor's Service (MCO), should "be subject to the same standards of liability and oversight as apply to auditors, securities analysts and investment bankers." The SEC was given the authority to determine how this oversight would be developed and implemented in the Dodd-Frank Act. The SEC's meeting on the subject of new proposed rules tied to the monitoring of the agencies is a natural part of the regulator's role in monitoring the firms, although it's unknown if, or what, proposed rules will be mentioned at Wednesday's meeting. "It is one of the most excellent parts of Dodd-Frank," said Brian O'Reilly, president of The Collingwood Group, a business advisory firm.  "It is indisputable that the public viewed the rating agencies as independent arbitrators of the value of the securities they were charged of rating," O'Reilly said. He said the financial crisis showed this wasn't necessarily the case. To restore confidence in the ratings, O'Reilly believes the SEC's authority under Dodd-Frank is an example of the type of regulatory oversight that actually works for the market. "There are many articles in the press challenging Dodd-Frank in its breadth and in some of the areas it touches upon," he said. "I would identify the SEC's actions in connection to the credit rating agencies as the sort of activity that Congress should be involved in as it relates to ensuring the lessons of the crisis are learned and it incorporates laws and regulations in a way that makes sense." Despite much of the criticism that has been levied at the credit ratings agencies, the firms have fought against the notion that they caused the financial meltdown. After a Senate report placed a great deal of blame on the credit rating agencies earlier this year, S&P responded saying, "As we have said many times, we have been disappointed by the performance of our ratings on certain mortgage-related securities.  The actions we took to downgrade U.S. RMBS and CDOs in 2007 and 2008 reflected the unprecedented deterioration in credit quality, but were not a cause of it.  We regret that, like many others, we did not foresee the speed and extent of the housing downturn." Write to: Kerri Panchuk.

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