I was sent this email about Standard & Poor the rating agency being hammered (although they may appeal) on their ratings in Australia and I wondered if, in this day and age of bank bashing, transparency and more accountability whether this may be the beginning of the CRA's on consumer credit being tackled now on the effects they have on people's financial lives when they get things wrong and being made to pay for it.
I do not have a lot of time for the Credit Reference Agencies in any event as they were invented to serve their own by Great Universal Stores I believe originally and whilst I can understand there may be a need for some kind of risk management in lending, their ego's , just like it happened within the Debt Collection Agencies until consumers turned with the help of CAG and other like minded souls, carried them into arrogance which meant that they change nothing on your rating unless their masters say so. Their masters being the finance industry as a whole.
This report below just goes to show how companies, people, governments even are beginning to say " hold on a second - that's not right!" and not before time too. Let's hope this can be used as a tool and measure for complaints and rectification by the CRA's. Enjoy:
Australian Court orders rating agency to pay damages for misleading investors
In what has been reported to be a landmark ruling, the Australian Federal Court has ordered Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and the issuing bank (the bank that arranged the derivative product in question) to pay 30m Australian dollars (£19m) in damages to several Australian local governments. The claim concerned the AAA rating (their safest credit rating) given by S&P to two structured debt issues in 2006, which later lost almost all of their value. It signals the first ruling on a rating agency’s liability for investor losses.
The claim concerned the rating, sale and purchase of a complicated structured financial product known as a constant proportion debt obligation (CPDO). The CPDO was a complex, highly leveraged credit derivative, operating over a term of 10 years, within which the CPDO would make or lose money through notional credit default swap contracts (CDSs) referencing two CDS indices known as the CDX and iTraxx indices.
The issuing bank (through their previous dealings with S&P) had a good idea of how S&P would model the performance of the CPDO to assess the creditworthiness and the rating. Thus the issuing bank proceeded to model the CPDO in a way to ensure that they achieved a rating of AAA. When engaging S&P, the issuing bank pressed S&P to adopt its model inputs as the basis for the rating. Due to a series of errors, omissions and unjustifiable assumptions, S&P rated the CPDO as AAA and authorised the issuing bank to disseminate that rating to potential investors which the issuing bank did. The issuing bank created further versions of the CPDO’s all of which received a AAA rating from S&P. These investments were purchased by various Australian local governments through an intermediary in 2006 and later went on to lose almost all of their value.
The court ruled that S&P’s rating of AAA was misleading and deceptive and that S&P along with the issuing bank had been involved in the publication of information and statements that were false in material particulars and involved negligent misrepresentations being made to potential investors. The court stated that the rating implied that the likelihood of the financial obligations being met was extremely strong. The issuing bank was also criticised as it was “knowingly concerned” in S&P’s misleading and deceptive conduct and engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct itself. The court stated that a reasonably competent rating agency could not have reached the conclusion that the derivative should be given a AAA rating. The court has ordered S&P and the issuing bank to pay 30m Australian dollars (£19m) in damages to several Australian local governments.
While the role of the rating agencies (who tend to receive their fees from the entities which they are rating) came under much scrutiny during the sub-prime crisis, the ruling is the first of its kind on a rating agency’s liability for investor losses and is the first time that a rating agency (many of whom have previously argued that their ratings are simply opinions) has been taken to a full trial over a structured financial product. S&P has said that it plans to lodge an appeal against the decision.
The decision means that rating agencies who have previously been unaccountable to investors may no longer be able to hide behind their disclaimers to protect them from liability. It has been reported that this decision could signal the way for investors to recover significant losses from S&P and the issuing bank in Europe. However, it remains to be seen whether such a claim would succeed in other jurisdictions (such as the English courts which have proved relatively unsympathetic to some investor claims, at least those by sophisticated investors) and raises interesting questions about the extent to which ratings agencies can be said to owe a duty to individual investors.
Further reading: Bathurst Regional Council v Local Government Financial Services Pty Ltd (No 5)  FCA 1200 (5 November 2012)