Subprime Mortgages, CDOs, and The Financial Crisis
The ratings agencies were heavily involved in the markets that enabled the subprime credit bubble of 2000-2008 and the subsequent financial crisis. In 1984 the federal government of the United States passed the Secondary Mortgage Market Enhancement Act (SMMEA) to improve the marketability of private-label (non-agency) mortgage-backed securities, which declared NRSRO AA-rated mortgage-backed securities to be legal investments equivalent to Treasury securities and other federal government bonds for federally-charted banks (such as federal savings banks, federal savings associations, etc.), state-chartered financial institutions (such as depository banks and insurance companies) unless overridden by state law by October 1991 (of which 21 states did so), and Department of Labor-regulated pension funds.
The agencies made massive profits from rating Collateralized debt obligations, Residential Mortgage Backed Securities, and other creatures of structured finance intimately connected to the subprime industry. The ratings on these products were essential to the way the banks marketed the products. Buyers, like pension funds, university endowments, and cities (a classic example being the city of Narvik, Norway), relied on these ratings in their decisions to purchase CDOs and other structured finance products. The activities of the ratings agencies have been detailed in many books, including The Big Short, by Michael Lewis, Confidence Game by Christine S. Richard, All The Devils are Here by Bethany McClean and Joe Nocera, and in many other accounts of the financial crisis. Janet Tavakoli, author of Structured Finance and Collateralized Debt Obligations, has suggested that these agencies lose their NRSRO status in relation to certain financial products. In 2011, the US Senate released the Levin-Coburn report on "Wall Street and the Financial Crisis"; it did a case study of the behavior of some of the credit ratings agencies during the crisis.
Read more about this topic: Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization
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