Foundations and Trends® in Finance > Vol 12 > Issue 1

The Economics of Credit Rating Agencies

Francesco Sangiorgi, Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Germany, F.Sangiorgi@fs.de Chester Spatt, Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and NBER, USA, cspatt@cmu.edu
 
Suggested Citation
Francesco Sangiorgi and Chester Spatt (2017), "The Economics of Credit Rating Agencies", Foundations and TrendsĀ® in Finance: Vol. 12: No. 1, pp 1-116. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/0500000048

Published: 20 Dec 2017
© 2017 F. Sangiorgi and C. Spatt
 
Subjects
Auditing,  Corporate Governance,  Disclosure,  Financial Reporting,  Asset Pricing: Fixed Income Securities,  Asset Pricing: Liquidity,  Corporate Finance: Agency Theory and Information,  Corporate Finance: Corporate Governance,  Derivatives: Credit Derivatives,  Financial Markets: Financial Intermediation,  Industrial Organization: Monopolies and Antitrust,  Industrial Organization: Regulatory Economics,  Law and Economics,  Regulation,  Rulemaking
 
Keywords
JEL Codes: D4D6D8G2G24L1L5
Credit rating agenciesinformation productioninformation intermediationconflict of interestreputationselectioncompetitionregulationsystemic risk
 

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In this article:
1. Introduction
2. The Role of Ratings, Regulatory Reliance and Contracting
3. Alternative Information Providers and the Markets
4. The Payment Model
5. Conflict of Interest and Reputation
6. Feedback Effects
7. Selection Effects
8. Rating Diverse Products
9. The Nature of Competition and Reputation
10. Why do Ratings Matter?
11. Concluding Comments
Appendix
Acknowledgements
References

Abstract

We explore through both an economics and regulatory lens the frictions associated with credit rating agencies in the aftermath of the financial crisis. While ratings and other public signals are an efficient response to scale economies in information production, these also can discourage independent due diligence and be a source of systemic risk. Though Dodd-Frank pulls back on the regulatory use of ratings, it also promotes greater regulation of the rating agencies. We highlight the diverse underlying views towards these competing approaches to reducing systemic risk. Our monograph also discusses the subtle contrasts between credit rating agencies and other types of due diligence providers, such as auditors, analysts and proxy-voting advisors. We discuss the frictions associated with paying for information in the context of credit ratings; while the issuer-pay model has been identified as a major issue because of potential conflict of interests, we argue that it has several advantages over the investor-pay model in promoting market transparency.

We develop a formal reputation model to explore the underlying nature of rating inflation and how the reputational trade-off is affected by various aspects of the rating process such as regulatory constraints, the fee structure, asymmetric information between issuers and investors and the extent of competition among rating agencies. The monograph also uses our illustrative framework to highlight tension between rating accuracy and economic efficiency when ratings influence project value in the presence of feedback effects. We discuss how selective disclosure of ratings by the issuer distorts the distribution of observed ratings. Selection also provides an alternative explanation for why solicited (purchased) ratings exceed unsolicited (complimentary) ratings and helps interpret the greater SEC support for unsolicited ratings in recent years as illustrating the theory of the second best. We explore the impact of greater competition on welfare, building upon a variety of frameworks. Our analysis points to several ways in which ratings matter as well as techniques for documenting such effects.

DOI:10.1561/0500000048
ISBN: 978-1-68083-380-5
135 pp. $85.00
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ISBN: 978-1-68083-381-2
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Table of contents:
1. Introduction
2. The Role of Ratings, Regulatory Reliance and Contracting
3. Alternative Information Providers and the Markets
4. The Payment Model
5. Conflict of Interest and Reputation
6. Feedback Effects
7. Selection Effects
8. Rating Diverse Products
9. The Nature of Competition and Reputation
10. Why do Ratings Matter?
11. Concluding Comments
Appendix
Acknowledgements
References

The Economics of Credit Rating Agencies

The Economics of Credit Rating Agencies explores the economic and regulatory issues and frictions associated with credit rating agencies in the aftermath of the financial crisis. While ratings and other public signals are important, they can discourage independent due diligence and be a source of systemic risk. The authors highlight the diverse underlying views towards these competing approaches to reducing systemic risk and discuss the subtle contrasts between credit rating agencies and other types of due diligence providers, such as auditors, analysts and proxy-voting advisors.

After an introduction, Section 2 provides a broad discussion of ratings in the regulatory framework, as well as how ratings potentially crowd out private information production and the risks associated with overreliance on ratings in market pricing. Section 3 contrasts credit rating agencies with alternative gatekeepers, such as auditors, analysts and proxy-voting advisers. Section 4 describes the difficulty of selling information and the underpinnings of the payment model for various financial information intermediaries under alternative assumptions. Section 5 discusses of rating agency analyst conflict of interest. An important aspect of credit ratings is the feedback effect that arises when a firm's behavior responds to the change in the cost of funding that is influenced by the rating. Feedback effects arise because of contractual triggers, but also through coordination and learning channels. Section 6 discusses these channels and especially the learning channel. Section 7 discusses selection issues including rating shopping and the contrast between solicited and unsolicited credit ratings. Section 8 contrasts ratings across products, including sovereign debt, and rating agencies. The nature of competition and the role of entry and reputation in the credit rating agency space are explored in Section 9. Section 10 examines why ratings matter, as well as techniques for identifying the real effects of ratings. The authors provide concluding observations and takeaways about rating agencies that emerged as a byproduct of the financial crisis in Section 11.

 
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