Big Three credit agencies in firing line

The EU is livid with the international credit ratings agencies. Yesterday Ireland's credit rating was relegated to 'junk' status by Moody's, infuriating the Irish government. Earlier this week EU commissioner Viviane Reding (pictured) threatened to "smash" the agencies' "cartel". Enough is enough. Is it war?


High-handed

Evidently. Another EU commissioner, Michel Barnier, has threatened the three big ratings agencies - Standard & Poor's, Moody's, Fitch - before. Neither commissioner likes the high-handed approach the ratings agencies take.

"You don't rate a country the same way you rate a company or a product," Barnier said last week. "That's an issue. We're examining that issue."

Its been suggested the ratings agencies could be banned from judgements on individual eurozone states. Power over populations, as it's tagged. Barnier wants banks to make more of an effort to carry out their own risk analysis rather than lazily relying on credit ratings agencies.

There's also the possibility of a new European-based rating agency that would focus exclusively on sovereign debt. This would help to break up the stranglehold the Big Three have on the market. Whether it would be publicly owned (and public funded) or private is still not clear.

And how 'independent' would it be in reality? Could it really do a more honest job?

Status concern

But you can you understand the EU's frustration. The ratings agencies make massive judgements on the financial future of sovereign states. Yet their judgement - they spectacularly failed to properly predict the credit crisis - continues to have an almost quasi "official" status with the markets.

Way too much authority. So they are now part of the problem. Moody's is a public company, for example, with its own share price pressures.

Barnier says he will announce stiff measures in November that will toughen up transparency and accountability. War has been, at last, officially declared, and about time.

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