March 26, 2018 / 2:45 PM / 4 months ago

Exclusive: S&P Global cuts top sovereign analysts as part of broader cull

LONDON (Reuters) - The world’s biggest credit ratings agency S&P Global has cut more than five of its most senior sovereign analysts as part of a broader reduction of in excess of 100 staff, a source told Reuters.

Moritz Kraemer, sovereign Global Chief Rating Officer, S&P Global Ratings, attends an interview with Reuters in Sao Paulo, Brazil December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/Files

The firm’s highly-regarded sovereign division, which monitors the creditworthiness of some 130 countries, is also being folded into its bank-focused Financial Services arm.

The most high-profile exit under that reorganisation has been its top global analyst, Moritz Kraemer, the source with knowledge of the cuts said.

Kraemer was the firm’s public face for its mass downgrades of euro zone countries during the debt crises of 2011 and 2012, and for states hit by the commodity price collapse of 2014.

Others veterans to have left include its chief Europe, Middle East and Africa analyst Myriam Fernandez de Heredia Martinez and Liesl Saldanha, who oversaw Asia-Pacific from Singapore as well as a number of their deputies.

“The sovereign group has basically been dismantled,” said the source who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a major decision. It took 25 years to build up the reputation as a leader in the sector.”

An S&P spokesman confirmed changes had been made but did not put a figure on departures.

“We have made some organizational changes globally as we continue to move toward a structure that is simpler and more effective,” the spokesman said. “Some individuals are leaving the organization as a result.”

S&P Global, which is home to the Standard and Poor’s name and employs around 1,400 analysts, has been in flux since it was rebranded from McGraw Hill Financial two years ago.

The latest cuts took shape last month when two of the firm’s three rating divisions, Sovereigns-International Public Finance and Financial Services’ were combined at a regional level.

It was the sovereigns arm that took the hit in terms of senior staff though. The top Financial Services analysts took over the combined units in U.S. and Canada, EMEA and Asia-Pacific, while in Latin America the lead analytical manager for Corporates took control.

The source estimated that around 110 analysts had either been cut or left S&P’s three ratings divisions.

UNDER SCRUTINY

The changes are likely to raise eyebrows within the sector and the governments that S&P and its main rivals, Moody’s and Fitch, monitor.

S&P has generally been faster and more aggressive with its sovereign rating moves than Moody’s and Fitch over recent years, which has also led to some intense public scrutiny.

The firm and five of its former and current managers were acquitted last year after Italian prosecutors had accused them and Fitch’s top sovereign analyst of market manipulation at the peak of the euro zone’s downgrades.

It was censured for wrongly announcing France’s rating had been downgraded in 2011 and that year had to hire round-the-clock guards for some top staff after it stripped the United States of its triple-A rating.

The sovereigns business brings in only about 8 percent of the firm’s revenues - roughly the same as it was a decade ago. The larger Corporates division has doubled its contribution over that period to 55 percent.

S&P has an EU market share of 46 percent, ESMA data shows, well ahead of Moody’s on 31 percent.

It recently announced plans to make a new Dublin office its post-Brexit EU headquarters, despite already having sizable offices and staff numbers in Frankfurt, Paris, Madrid and Milan.

“It shows the desire of the firm to extract regulatory rent from this,” the source said referring to the potential benefit of Ireland’s lower taxes and more flexible labour laws.

The big three agencies have most of their European staff in London, and are facing regulatory demands to move “sufficient” numbers of senior personnel to the EU when Britain leaves the bloc.

Reporting by Marc Jones; editing by John Stonestreet

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