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Rating agencies warned to watch their step

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Credit rating agencies cannot win.

They were blamed for carelessness before the crisis, handing out over-generous ratings on the packets of mortgage-backed securities that subsequently unravelled, sending the global economy into a spin and leading to Lehman Brothers collapse. Now they are being criticised again, this time for being too cautious, by dishing out rating downgrades to countries in Europe being sucked into Greece’s debt crisis.

Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Spain’s rating one notch to AA, warning that the outlook was bleak for the euro zone’s fourth biggest economy. Struggling Greece has also been marked down — to junk status — and now hovers close to Pakistan and Venezuela in the credit stakes. Portugal is another country to be singled out for downgrades from the leading ratings companies.

It’s all little too much for the European Union, which worries about the downgrades creating a vicious spiral that exacerbates the crisis rather than helping to stall it.

Yesterday, the European Commission warned the rating agencies to watch their step.

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