Illinois sues S&P over ratings, alleges fraud

Thu Jan 26, 2012 2:37am IST

The Standard and Poor's building in New York, August 2, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

The Standard and Poor's building in New York, August 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid/Files

Related Topics

Stocks

   

REUTERS - Standard & Poor's has been sued by Illinois' attorney general, who accused it of fueling the nation's housing and financial crises by assigning inflated credit ratings to risky mortgage-backed securities.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the McGraw-Hill Cos Inc MHP.N unit, in a drive to boost market share, committed fraud and compromised its independence by issuing tainted, often "AAA" ratings to curry favor with Wall Street banks that created the securities.

"S&P was making hundreds of millions of dollars a year rating these deals," Madigan said in a telephone interview. "Without the rating agencies as enablers, none of these securities would have been able to be purchased by many investors."

The lawsuit accuses McGraw-Hill and S&P of violating state consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices laws. It seeks to recover profits derived from alleged inflated ratings, plus a $50,000 civil fine for each violation.

David Wargin, an S&P spokesman, said: "The case is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously."

S&P and its main rivals, Moody's Corp's (MCO.N) Moody's Investors Service and Fimalac SA's (LBCP.PA) Fitch Ratings, have long faced investor and regulatory criticism over their ratings for structured securities that later proved toxic.

These agencies are typically paid by issuers whose securities they rate. Critics say this creates a conflict of interest, and causes issuers to shop for the best ratings.

Moody's and Fitch are not targets of Wednesday's lawsuit, which was filed in a Cook County state court.

"Our investigation is ongoing with respect to other players in the marketplace that may have contributed to the collapse," Madigan said.

INDEPENDENCE QUESTIONED

Illinois' complaint accused S&P of "systematically misrepresenting that its credit analysis of structured finance securities was objective, independent and not influenced by either S&P's or its clients' financial interests."

It quotes several internal S&P communications, including a widely quoted 2007 instant message by an analyst: "It could be structured by cows and we would rate it."

Madigan said Illinois' case has become stronger as more evidence has come to light.

"S&P will publicly say at every opportunity that its ratings are objective and independent," she said. "But when you see what they were talking about at work, it was: 'How do we retain this client, how do we give this deal a higher rating, and how do we make more money for this company?'"

S&P, Moody's and Fitch in September won the dismissal of a lawsuit in which Ohio pension funds claimed to have lost $457 million because of inflated ratings.

That case had been brought by Richard Cordray, formerly Ohio's attorney general and now director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Connecticut settled its own lawsuit against the agencies over ratings in October.

This month, the Government Accountability Office urged U.S. securities regulators to more vigorously explore ways to reduce potential conflicts for credit rating agencies.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is conducting a study required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that explores how best to pay the agencies.

In late afternoon trading, McGraw-Hill shares were up 74 cents, or 1.6 percent, at $47.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The case is Illinois v. McGraw-Hill Cos et al, Cook County Circuit Court, No. 12CH02535.

(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel; Editing by John Wallace, Tim Dobbyn and Gerald E. McCormick)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Diwali Sales

Diwali Sales

Gold sales jump about 20 pct for Diwali - trade body  Full Article 

World Bank Rival

World Bank Rival

Three major nations absent as China launches W.Bank rival in Asia  Full Article 

Wal-Mart India

Wal-Mart India

Murali Lanka appointed as Wal-Mart India operations chief  Full Article 

Microsoft Earnings

Microsoft Earnings

Microsoft sales beat Street hopes, cloud profits up.  Full Article 

Special Report

Special Report

Why Madrid's poor fear Goldman Sachs and Blackstone  Full Article 

U.S. Economy

U.S. Economy

Spectre of no-inflation world looms over Fed's return to normal  Full Article 

Insider Trading

Insider Trading

Rengan Rajaratnam, SEC to settle civil insider trading charge.  Full Article 

Market Watch

Market Watch

Betting on the beaten up? Investors pin hopes on stocks in Europe, Japan.  Full Article 

India Insight

India Insight

Kalki Koechlin on her role as a disabled girl in “Margarita, With a Straw”  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage