Cutting the ratings agencies the tiniest bit of slack

By Cate Long
November 1, 2011

After polluting the global financial system with hundreds of billions of dollars of overrated mortgage-backed securities and helping bring down the world economy, the credit rating agencies have been struggling mightily to repair their reputations. It’s been an uphill climb, and they were dealt another blow on Friday when a Bloomberg piece detailed academic research showing how fees influenced the assignment of higher ratings. Municipal issuers got the harshest ratings because they paid the lowest fees, according to the article.

Cities: educated and indebted

By Cate Long
September 23, 2011

Thomson Reuters Municipal Market Data muniland expert Daniel Berger reminded me of a report that I had forgotten about that shows the correlations between the low credit ratings of Ohio’s cities and the cities’ very low levels of college graduates. Dan posits that Ohio, as part of America’s Rust Belt, didn’t require high levels of education for staff at its manufacturing plants and, accordingly, didn’t develop large college-educated workforces. As manufacturing moved out of the region, it left behind cities where the workforce was not attractive to high-tech industries and other sectors that required more educated workers. The cities declined and their credit ratings suffered. Such is the devastating effect of globalization.

Political heat at S&P for ratings downgrades?

By Cate Long
August 23, 2011

The Daily Show – What Are You Friggin’ Nuts Over There?

 

S&P replaces president after U.S. downgrade

The board of directors of McGraw-Hill met Monday and voted to oust Deven Sharma as president of their Standard & Poor’s rating division. This forced resignation comes approximately three weeks after S&P downgraded the debt of the United States. Jon Stewart, in the clip above, jokes about political pressure brought to bear on the company by the U.S. government. I think he is spot on with his humor.

Does a downgrade cost anything?

By Cate Long
August 19, 2011

The debt of the United States was downgraded by Standard & Poor’s several weeks ago, but the price of U.S. Treasuries have skyrocketed since then. This confuses many people because a baseline relationship in the fixed-income markets is that lower-rated, less-creditworthy bonds will be relatively cheap and investors will demand higher interest rates to compensate for additional risk.

Fitch gives USA its stamp of approval

By Cate Long
August 17, 2011

Fitch leaves munis tied to U.S. rating at AAA, S&P downgrades

Fitch Ratings, one of the three major rating agencies and the one considered the most accurate by institutional investors, has affirmed the credit rating of the debt of the United States at AAA. As a follow-on to this action they have also maintained the AAA credit rating of municipal entities tied to U.S. Treasuries.

The swirl of ratings and CDS

By Cate Long
August 12, 2011

The Wall Street Journal ran an odd article yesterday about the unpredictability of sovereign credit ratings that are below the investment-grade cutoff (BB+ and lower). Check out the table from the IMF of S&P’s sovereign ratings.

Muniland is shrinking

By Cate Long
August 12, 2011

Although municipal tax revenues have rebounded in the last few quarters, the declines of prior years have hit state and local employment hard.  In the chart above Matt Yglesias shows the collapse of state and local revenues; with the collapse of revenues we’ve seen the loss of many muniland jobs. Now the story is pivoting to large potential job losses at the federal level.

Jon Stewart dives into raterville

By Cate Long
August 11, 2011

The Daily Show
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Jon Stewart’s Daily Show interview with Columbia law professor John Coffee is great. To have credit rating agencies discussed on a popular national comedy show is fantastic. The more the public knows about these powerful agencies, the better.

Why the little guys can be on top

By Cate Long
August 10, 2011

Here is a brilliant map from the Tax Foundation (via WPRI.com). The percentages on the map indicate the amount of each state’s annual budget that goes to pay off interest on their debt. Massachusetts leads the pack in this statistic with 9.58% of their budget going towards interest payments, much higher than the average. It’s important to note that this is not a map of relative ranking of debt loads as that would look quite a bit different and have California in the lead.

Wall Street’s deepest muniland fear

By Cate Long
August 9, 2011

Wall Street’s deepest muniland fear

Although credit rating downgrades for municipal bonds are grabbing the headlines, that is not a real worry for Wall Street. Underwriters and traders are used to adjusting their models and formulas for changes in ratings and interest rates; after all, they are extremely skilled at that. However, forces are taking aim at the way they are compensated, and that is Wall Street’s deepest muniland fear. It’s all about how they are paid to underwrite municipal bonds, and the state of Maine is leading the charge.