SEC Cracks Down on 'Quality' of Credit Ratings
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is seeking public comment after proposing measures Thursday to improve the "quality of credit ratings" through greater disclosure by and even competition among credit rating agencies (CRAs). CRAs face criticism by industry players that say they over-rated mortgage-backed and other asset-backed securities created by their clients but that were comprised of assets that turned out to be toxic. Since the subprime mortgage fallout, critics have called for regulation of the firms as early as February 2008. The SEC's proposals are part of an effort to reform regulation of CRAs and enforce greater transparency within the securitization market. "These proposals are needed because investors often consider ratings when evaluating whether to purchase or sell a particular security," said SEC chairman Mary Schapiro in a statement. "That reliance did not serve them well over the last several years," she added, "and it is incumbent upon us to do all that we can to improve the reliability and integrity of the ratings process and give investors the appropriate context for evaluating whether ratings deserve their trust." The SEC adopted rules to create a stronger regulatory framework for CRAs like Fitch Ratings, Moody's and Standard & Poor's. The SEC also proposed amendments to current rules that seek to strengthen compliance programs by requiring annual compliance reports from the CRAs. The SEC proposed new rules that require disclosure of information including what a credit rating covers. The rules would require disclosure of any limitations on the scope of the rating. The SEC's proposed rules also seek to discover occurrence of "rate shopping" by requiring whether any preliminary ratings were obtained from other CRAs. Public comment is due with in 60 days of the proposals' publication in the Federal Register. Write to Diana Golobay.