This past week, in response to numerous calls by industry participants at ASF 2008 that the rating agencies needed to be regulated, many agency representatives said they were already regulated -- by the Securities and Exchange Commission. With than in mind, it appears the SEC is now considering some significant changes to the ratings game, according to a report this weekend in the Wall Street Journal:
The Securities and Exchange Commission may soon propose rules that require credit-ratings firms to disclose the accuracy of past ratings and distinguish between various products they rate, the first indication how the industry might be regulated in the wake of the subprime crisis. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said the potential rules "would require credit-rating agencies to make disclosures surrounding past ratings in a format that would improve the comparability of track records and promote competitive assessments of the accuracy of past ratings." He added that the SEC "may propose rules aimed at enhancing investor understanding" about the differences between how ratings are treated for standard municipal and corporate debt, as compared with innovative financial instruments crafted by Wall Street banks.
Moody's Investors Service last week floated a proposal to change how its ratings are presented for structured securities, including mortgage-backed issuances, while Standard & Poor's introduced a series of governance-related changes designed to restore investor confidence. Both are clearly making a push to stay ahead of any regulatory action. New York AG Andrew Cuomo called the proposed changes "window dressing" on Friday, saying the agencies needed to go further in their efforts to ensure their ratings in the mortgage-backed space were sound. SEC officials are finding, however, that rating agencies aren't the only ones to blame; the WSJ reported that early reviews have found poor risk controls at numerous Wall Street investment banks, as well.