Thursday, 27 June 2013

'You F--ked Up, You Trusted Us': Talking Ratings Agencies With Chris Hayes

By MATT TAIBBI

"Standard & Poor's has long had strict policies to reinforce the independence of our analytical processes. . . . We make our methodology transparent to the market."
That was among the responses of a spokesperson for the ratings agency Standard & Poor's when I contacted him a few weeks ago in advance of a new Rolling Stone feature, "The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis," which describes the role the ratings agencies played in causing the 2008 crash. The company was genuinely miffed that anyone would impugn its honesty. In one relatively brief e-mail, the spokesperson used variables of terms like "independent," "integrity" and "transparent," upwards of nine times.
Hold that thought.
"The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis" makes great use of documents uncovered in years of painstaking research by attorneys at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, a San Diego-based firm that was at the forefront of major lawsuits against the industry. The material those lawyers found leaves virtually no doubt that the great ratings agencies like Moody's and S&P essentially put their analysis up for sale in the years leading up to the crash.
I picked some of the more damaging of these documents to ask about. Like for instance, an email from a company executive reading, "Lord help our fucking scam. . . . This has to be the stupidest place I have worked at."
Out of context, they said.
What about other highly suggestive emails, like the one in which an analyst joked that "we have just stuck our preverbal [sic] finger in the air!!", or the one in which an analyst admitted his quantitative model was only marginally more reliable than "flipping a coin"?
Not only cherry-picked and out of context, but "contradicted by other evidence," is how the S&P man put it.

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